I recently learned a new term, Doom surfing. I first heard it out of context, a Zoom conversation with other writers, when someone said they felt like they were Doom Surfing and I thought, “Oh that must be what I do too!” Because I can tell you at any given point how many cases of Covid-19 we are facing in my county (539), state (6383), country (311,658), and in the world (1,216,422). These are the numbers at this moment, anyway, which was probably yesterday if you are reading this. I assumed that Doom surfing meant people who are always falling down rabbit holes of dread and doom, especially now, connected with the current pandemic. I was half right. Or sort of right. Or there are a couple of variations.
A couple days later I Googled “Doom Surfing” and came up with one of those variations. I saw the term used for people like me, sure, people who are obsessed with getting the up-to-date news on cases and deaths and CDC recommendations, which only serves to stop us from getting a good night’s sleep. But come on, four days ago I got an alert on my phone that said an 11-year-old boy died in the county I live in. The next day I got an alert that said that data was wrong. But in the precious 18 hours between those two news alerts I lost my shit. So I mean, sometimes the doom just comes, I don’t have to seek it out.
But this other variation on the term is a bit more, umm, how should I say this? It’s pretty fucking sad and scary. In Alexandra Wake’s article “Doom surfing and fact checkers prosper in Covid-19 infodemic,” Doom Surfers were likened to people who share Infowars articles to bait and scare people. Wake said, “There are the ‘doom surfers’ looking for anything about the virus to share; the self-appointed online moral enforcers who shame others for sometimes innocuous and other times problematic actions; the internet trolls who appear to find joy in spreading fear or provoking racism; and the comedians who can bring a laugh with a clever meme, song, or video, but, in some cases, may inadvertently cause further harm.”
This made me pause. I wasn’t this kind of Doom Surfer, if there are in fact kinds. At least I hope I’m not. I don’t think I’ve been sharing memes that could further harm. I mean, I’ve been laughing my ass off at Carole Baskin memes, but that feels like a different post. I do, however, know and am in some cases related to, people who do fit this description. People who share misinformation and say things like, “Jesus is the only way out of this. If you don’t believe you can’t be saved,” among other really cool things. (Sarcasm).
Then there is the infodemic we are living in. Infodemic is a term coined by the World Health Organization to express their frustration about getting correct information out to the masses in a time when so much misinformation is being spread. By who? Not WHO. You guessed it, the Doom Surfers.
So how can we stop them? Or us? Or all of it from bringing us down? Simple answer: We can’t. Well, we can’t really stop the other variation of Doom Surfers, but we can work on our own behavior like the way we respond (or don’t respond) to them, and how much time we spend getting sucked into the rabbit hole of hell.
Here are some things I have done in the last three weeks to help, maybe they can help you too:
- Log off. That’s easier said than done, I know. But even in this craziness I am still trying to limit myself to 15 minutes a day on Facebook (Y’all know I’ve been doing that for months now) and it is really helping.
- Log into new, different ways of connecting to people. Look for the cool concerts, free art exhibits, and other new and amazing things that are happening on the internet these days. Last Friday night Jerimiah, Jackson, and I joined some friends in Rhode Island via Zoom to watch an improv troupe perform. It was so much fun. You can check them out here: Bring Your Own Improv
- Read, read, read (but not the internet, duh.) When quarantine hit I ordered three new books that I’ve been wanting to read from three of my favorite Indie book stores around the country. For real. I ordered one from Chicago, one from Kansas City, and one from Atlanta. Supporting small business and getting my read on, it’s kinda cool. But if you can’t do that right now, check with your local library, most of them have online books you can virtually check out and read on your phone or iPad now, and/or other free online libraries like Open Library where you can legit check out Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmade’s Tale” right now. Do it! There are also lots of Little Free Libraries all over the country now. You can find those registered near you at their website. There were seven in our neighborhood in Charlotte, we even helped build them! You just bring an old book from your shelf that you’ve already read, and stick it in there, then pick a new book from the shelf that you haven’t read. Super simple.
- When you are scrolling, scrolling, scrolling and you find yourself confronted with one of those people, the other kind of Doom Surfers, scroll on past (if you can). Sometimes you can’t though. For me it’s a simple question: Is this person potentially harming someone with their misinformation? If they are, then you know I can’t scroll on past. I have to say something. I try to keep it short, tell them the nicest way possible they are giving wrong information and remind them to check their sources. I will often do that for them, and post a source with the correct information alongside my comment, then I tell them to DM me if they are confused or want to talk more. Trust me, no one fucking DMs.
- Last, but certainly not least, go outside. This sort of goes along with logging off, and I know some of you are like, “Missy, girl, I am not an outside person.” And I get that. But desperate times call for desperate measures, ya dig? Try it. For me. Go sit on the deck in that chair you bought when you moved in and it still doesn’t have a butt imprint in it. Dust off the pollen first. Go for a walk around your neighborhood. If you have a dog cool, if not, call your local animal shelters, the ones who are desperately looking for people to foster right now, and ask how you can foster, or if you are not committed, ask how you can walk a dog everyday. Trust me, you can. They have them. The dogs that would love an hour-long walk outside with a human who will also pet them.
- Watch good television. Or bad television. Binge watch “The Office,” again. “Tiger King”? If you just can’t do it, if you just can’t bring yourself to watch a documentary that you think is horrendous and crude (it is, but it’s also so much more) than may I suggest some others. HBO is offering free streaming for 30 days right now and there is a great documentary based on the “Serial” podcast from a few years ago about Adnan Syed. You know the one. There is also a documentary series on Netflix that I recommend about men and women in prison in New York who can attend college through the Bard College Prison Initiative. It’s by Ken Burns so you know it’s good. It’s titled, “College Behind Bars” and it will get you thinking about a ton of things. It will really combat those hours you gave to “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.” What’s that? You’ve never seen “W to the Fourth”? Then stop talking shit on “Tiger King.”
I hope some of this helps you. Some of this entertains you. Some of this inspires you. Most importantly, remember that Doom Surfing, as you and I do it, is sometimes inescapable. There’s nothing wrong with you if you are doing it. It’s human nature, actually, to want to know what is happening. And we are all anxious and scared and a little sad right now. That is the stone-cold truth. You are not alone in those feelings. But just make sure you aren’t the other kind of Doom Surfer, ya dig? Cause that’s bad news bears.
Take care of yourself. And be on the lookout for my “Tiger King” post, because obviously I have some shit to work through with that. Christ.
Speaking of doom…