Recently, I reclaimed my identity as a Twitter user after a yearslong hiatus. Twitter was once my favorite social media platform back when social media was still a new concept. I remember myself in middle school: casually tweeting about my everyday activities, sending my friends funny memes, liking the Tweets of all my favorite celebrities. Twitter was a platform of fun, of laughter.
I stopped using Twitter as a teenager — when it became the “uncool” platform and Instagram took over — only to return to it now, as an adult. But the Twitter I returned to isn’t nearly as fun as I remember.
It’s not Twitter that changed, of course, but the content I consume. My feed, previously filled with mainstream memes and the latest celebrity drama, has transformed into a bulletin of international news and politics. A depressing one, too, given the state of the world.
I have a love-hate relationship with my new, “adult” Twitter experience; while I appreciate how easy it makes it to access information and stay informed of world affairs, I oftentimes feel like it drains the hope and joy in me, pushing me towards an anxious spiral.
On late nights when I’m studying for exams, I sometimes decide to scroll through Twitter for a break. The blue bird shows up on my screen and depressing Tweets line up underneath: Country X is on the brink of war, person X was murdered by the police, human rights violations, unexpected effects of climate change, rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and many, many more.
On nights like these, the material I am learning in school feels distant from the real world. When I put my phone away to resume focus on the open textbook in front of me, the words I read seem pointless.
I read the same sentences again and again, trying to process the words my eyes are seeing. But it becomes difficult to concentrate when all I can think about is the terrifying future ahead. I feel a tightness in my chest, a sense of hopelessness — a dreadful feeling that I’m helpless against evil forces much greater than me.
Despite these feelings, I can’t stop checking Twitter. Can anyone? Looking out for danger is a big part of how we are evolutionarily wired to survive. In the age of social media, this can easily be done through the consumption of news on platforms like Twitter. There is even a word for more extreme cases of this behavior: “Doomscrolling,” or the excessive (and obsessive) on-screen consumption of bad news, peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But binge-reading bad news can also bring about our own eventual “doom.” In a survey by the American Psychological Association, more than half of the participants stated that news consumption caused them stress, with many also reporting feeling fatigued, anxious and even losing sleep. A declining mental health, too, is a threat to look out for, bad news being one of the biggest culprits.
This is partly because the media has changed, too. Whereas in the pre-smartphone years, people would simply learn the news through headlines and text, today we have explicit recordings of violence uploaded to social media by various bystanders, as well as an abundance of other high-resolution visuals like professional photographs. We are constantly bombarded with images of violence that pop up on our feed, regardless of whether we want to be exposed to it or not.
It becomes close to impossible to establish a balance between staying informed and protecting your mental health, especially as a student. Our generation faces a paradox — we are constantly told we have so much promise and are expected to change the world for the better, but we are heading towards a more disastrous and uncertain future than ever before.
How many of us are going to change the world for the better? How does one even shoulder such a responsibility? It isn’t easy.
Occasionally, I try to distance myself from social media. When I read the news, my world expands; mentally, I am everywhere all at once, concerned with all sorts of problems. I need to remind myself to slow down.
At times like these, I think about the words of Chanel Miller in her memoir “Know My Name.” In one chapter, she writes about her experience diving in Indonesia while her sexual assault trial was in progress in the United States.
Amazed by the peace and beauty of life underwater, swimming among the fish unaware of her existence, Chanel realizes that her world was only a bubble in which she was trapped throughout her trial.
She writes, in words I often repeat to myself, “When it’s winter in one place it is summer in another. When I return to Palo Alto … I would remember that this world also exists, and that I can exist in it. This world is just as real as that one.”
When my world gets too overwhelming, I like to imagine I’m with Chanel underwater, swimming with the fish where, momentarily, nothing really matters. I remind myself that while scrolling through my depressing Twitter feed past midnight on midterm week may make life seem dull and hopeless, there is still so much joy and beauty in the world.
You just need to allow yourself to find it.