Scrolling through feeds is arguably one of the most common things people do on smartphones and tablets. Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, TikTok, and many other services thrive on it. But is all of this mindless scrolling adding anything to your life?
What Is “Mindless” Scrolling?
First, I should be clear that not all scrolling is bad. It would be foolish to say that nothing good has ever come from checking Twitter or making a Reddit post. It’s very possible to learn new things, make friends, and have valuable experiences online, but you’re probably also wasting a lot of time.
The distinction we’re making here is mindless scrolling. Mindless scrolling is swiping through TikTok because you’ve got 10 minutes to kill. It’s reading Facebook while you’re on the toilet. If you pull out your phone for no other reason than you have a second of downtime, that’s mindless scrolling.
That’s really the key to mindless scrolling. When you’re doing it simply because you feel the need to fill every nanosecond with stimulation, you’re not adding anything beneficial to your life. All these little moments add up over time. You’re chasing a dopamine hit.
We’ve talked about “doomscrolling” before, but that’s slightly different than mindless scrolling. Doomscrolling is specifically looking at something you know will be upsetting. Mindless scrolling can be doomscrolling, but it’s usually exactly that—mindless. You’re not seeking anything specific at all.
RELATED: What Is Doomscrolling?
What’s So Bad About It?
Mindless scrolling is a lot closer to an addiction than many people want to admit. It might start by checking social media while you wait for something at work, but then it starts bleeding out of those moments and into the time you could be spending on other things.
You may start to feel a draw to pull out your phone. Maybe you feel uncomfortable when there’s nothing immediately stimulating in front of you. You’re essentially training your brain to expect the dopamine rush whenever there’s not something that demands your attention.
Here’s the really nasty thing about mindless scrolling: social media sites are designed to get you addicted to them. The algorithms learn your habits and surface things they think you’ll like. The constant stimulus is designed to motivate you to come back over and over again—even if the experience isn’t particularly positive.
All of this is bad, but the real problem is none of it is providing anything beneficial. You’re not opening Facebook with a specific intention, you just want to “see what’s going on.” That’s not a productive use of time, but you already know that. Everyone knows that. Yet we do it all the time.
So what’s the trick to using these services without all the mindless scrolling. As I said at the top, there are genuinely useful things you can take away from social media and other similar websites. The thing to remember is intention.
There’s a big difference between opening Facebook to scroll around while you’ve got five minutes to kill and opening Facebook to send a message to a friend. There’s a big difference between watching YouTube for hours every night and finding a YouTube video to show you how to bake a cake.
The intention is the key. One is filling time with mindless stimulation, the other is performing a specific function. These services certainly make it hard to have healthy habits, but it’s not impossible. You just need to know what you’re doing. The next time you reach your finger to your social media app of choice, ask yourself why?
Another way you can be intentional is to curate your feeds. Make sure you’re following people and accounts you genuinely want to see. Remove anything or anyone that isn’t necessary. Doing this will make your experience a lot better and won’t pull you into rabbit holes as easily.
I am certainly not suggesting that you fill every second of your day with only “productive” tasks. In fact, I’m making the case for the opposite. Let yourself sit in boredom once in a while. You don’t need to constantly bombard your eyeballs with scrolling feeds.