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Another day of compulsive doomscrolling.

By Jem Calder

  • July 18, 2022

I see it in myself and the people around me that almost all internet usage is, at this point, purely compulsive, the fulfillment of a nervous habit. Any supposed “purpose” or outwardly justifiable “reason” for our browsing is always secondary, incidental to our primary need to browse as a maladaptive coping mechanism. People consult apps to check the forecast of weather they’re already in; repeatedly refresh feeds they know couldn’t possibly have been updated. Our scrolling, now, is mostly just empty perseveration, an attempt to alleviate the lonely burden of selfhood via tech. Studies show that stimulus-deprived human test subjects prefer to self-administer painful electric shocks rather than just sit with their own thoughts. You already know this.

My point is: understand that all my searches you’re about to read — and your own motivations to spend time on this website reading them — are really about something different, baser, and sadder than either of us would like to admit.

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Saw this documentary a while ago and wanted to rewatch it. In the UK it’s buried on some streaming service that no one’ll ever pay for. The film covers thirty-six years in the lives of Rob, Freddie, and Deliris, three friends from Newark, New Jersey, with spiraling drug addictions.

Specific moments that occur to me as I try to remember the film: Rob forgetting his false teeth after getting parole then cheerfully going back to prison to collect them; Freddie forgoing his HIV medication to avoid getting a false positive on a drug test; Deliris’ school-age daughter, Kiki, trying to reason her mother out of using.

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Have been repeat listening to this Gastr del Sol song for most of summer and only just realized that I don’t know the words. I diligently read through the lyrics on genius.com (née Rap Genius), but don’t seem to have retained any of them besides the two I think I already knew (“September reverses…”) — this kind of lightspeed forgetting being pretty much a constant in all my internet browsing.

box blight

A fungal infection that attacks boxwood shrubs. I researched this ailment partly to learn how to treat my own plants, partly to have something to discuss with the old people who live down my road. “There’s a lot of it about,” I imagine myself saying, ruefully, before dispensing timeless, search-engined wisdom on blight remedies. In the real, unimagined world, though, there is no cure for box blight: all the old people and I can do is prolong the decline of our gradually browning shrubs.

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After explaining this Cormac McCarthy essay to someone, I wanted to check how much of my recollection was real and how much I’d imagined / misremembered. Happily, my memory of it was pretty accurate: the unconscious is older than language; dreams deliver us messages from the deep; “[i]t’s hard to escape the conclusion that the unconscious is laboring under a moral compulsion to educate us” — yes! This weird, mystical article bodes well for McCarthy’s two upcoming novels.

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Lately I find myself captivated by possibly the least captivating political figure ever to have lived. The guy simply repels attention: watching him speak, you can literally feel your line of focus sliding off his face. He isn’t even memorable enough to be properly infuriating, which, I guess, is maybe the point of him. Poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the UK’s 2024/5 general election, Starmer’s managerial, gray-man approach to politics has done everything it can to ensure there’ll be more years of Conservative rule ahead.

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More aimless doomscrolling. Like the Cormac McCarthy thing, I had to re-research this topic to make sure I wasn’t misremembering certain details when relaying them to other people. Seems I’ve been remembering things correctly, though: Swan’s research into the effects of endocrine disruptors (phthalates, plasticizers, etc.) on reproductive health paints a picture of human fertility in precipitous decline. Male sperm counts have declined by 50 percent in the last four decades; today, the average twenty-five-year-old woman is less fertile than her grandmother was at thirty-five. Swan postulates that by 2050 (when the earth’s seas will contain more plastic than fish) human beings will be incapable of reproducing without the aid of advanced technology.

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Asking for a friend.


Jem Calder was born in Cambridge, and lives and works in London. His debut story collection, Reward System, will be published tomorrow by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.