Confessions of a Doomscroller
I’m sure many of you will find this personal development relatable; a growing anxious attachment to your cell phone, only exacerbated by the last two years of the global pandemic. The confinement to the walls of our homes, limited outdoor mobility, minimal exposure to friends and family, and panic fanned into flames by a monolithic opinion on matters of public policy have caused us to retreat deeper into the distracting folds of social media.
Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and best-selling co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind refers to the Biblical story in Genesis of the Tower of Babel where God confuses the language of people groups, so they couldn’t understand each other. In our modern context, our inability to communicate with each other despite the game-changing optimism heralded by social media has underlying causes far deeper than the tribalism which had existed even prior to recent years, and has only made us better authoritarians.
Always something of a news junkie, I succumbed to the urgent need to stay aware of each minutiae of the unfolding pandemic at all times. One crisis dovetailed messily into another — a recklessly protracted return to a semblance of normalcy was de rigueur in most countries, while self-sabotaging their economies and the mental health of its most vulnerable populations, through a reliance solely on the blunt tools of lockdowns and a sole therapeutic intervention. To that, add the newfangled transformation of scientists into economists, spiritual advisors, and even foreign policy experts, creating a surging fear of missing out on the latest informational tidbit.
My mind never rested — even while attempting to switch off for the night, I listened to podcasts from experts, absorbing and processing information — ever alert to formulate, change or confirm my opinion.
I’m increasingly beginning to doubt my ability to influence monumental shifts in world events through my powers of persuasion. I need to scroll less. And rewire my tired and fraught brain with a new approach. Perhaps, you will find it useful, if you like me, want to deescalate from the wars waged in your world.
(1) Expanding my mental palette: From consuming a veritable smorgasbord of political opinions and Twitter expertise, I’ve curbed my appetite for the 24/7 news cycle. Turning instead to a more wholesome diet comprising business, history, economics, science, and cultural theology. The latter is significant — entreating myself to go to the Bible as a starting point for various conflicting issues tearing societies apart has been valuable. And not least due to the conviction that the Scriptures have instruction, direction, and wisdom to be unearthed in each of the situations human societies are finding themselves embroiled in.
(2) Engaging in deep work: Cal Newport in his Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World says, “Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. To put this more concretely: if every moment of potential boredom in your life — say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives — is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, it’s not ready for deep work — even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.”
I am trying to carve out time sprints where I work undistracted without reaching for the phone or checking e-mails, with a singular focus on the task at hand. Whenever I’ve adopted the mindset of a productivity-fiend, not only have I been able to accomplish a greater number of tasks, but also stretched my ability to learn and hone a new skill.
(3) Calling to mind that God is sovereign: Watching the world seemingly ready to blaze within a tinder box, I can often forget that God is the ruler of all kingdoms and events on earth. It is He who causes nations to rise and fall, orchestrates or permits events, and appoints the days of man. Justice can seem agonizingly slow, peace, a figment of a philosopher’s imagination, and joy, a distant and fleeting memory.
However, for the believer, there is the calm assurance that there are no coincidences in their lives, no freak accidents, no instances of divine negligence. If I didn’t believe that even unjust, evil, or maleficent actors can only go as far as God allows them, are entirely subservient to the purposes of God, and whose wickedness can be weaved into a glorious pattern in the life of His children, life would be searingly burdensome at best, and justifiably spent on hedonism at worst. Oh, but thankfully, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.