My lizard brain is no match for infinite scroll

Mar 6, 2022 · 723 words · 4 minutes read

I’m declaring defeat. Infinite scroll has won.

There is an endless supply of interesting things to consume online, and there are teams and teams of very smart people working very hard to get me to keep watching. One more video means one more metric counter incrementing, one more engagement click, one more step towards growth, ad revenue, product success…

The danger for me is that I fall in. It’s so easy to open an app in an automatic movement of muscle memory, filling up an empty moment without conscious thought. Suddenly that content is there, and it’s so easy to go to the next image, post, or video. 30 seconds later, once you’ve reached the end, they’ll even scroll to the next one for you.

It’s so easy to get stuck in it. Time melts away. I wasn’t planning to spend 30 minutes lying on the couch looking at my phone, but here we are. It’s far too easy, and since they know exactly what I find interesting, there’s almost no barrier to keep looking.

I think my main problem with it is that it makes me a passive recipient in my interactions with this device, instead of an active participant. I didn’t know I wanted to see how these hand-made skis are made and finished, but then again, I also didn’t know I’d be down here on the couch for 45 minutes.

When I take a minute to think about the things I enjoy doing with my devices, it helps me realize that they’re the ones where I’m deliberately using it. Talking to people I know, for example. Watching that movie I had been looking forward to. Looking up the origin of an oddly spelled word. Creating, rather than just consuming, and using it as a tool to improve my life, even if that little improvement is a one word answer to a tiny question that had been bugging me.

But the content — it’s a default. It’s a comfort when you’re tired, when it’s just easier to look. Worse yet, by defaulting to this little screen, it gets in the way of me spending my time deliberately. I really enjoy drawing, and usually, even if I’m tired, if I grab a pencil and some paper, I end up having so much fun scratching out little sketches. If I had gotten up and started drawing, I probably would have remembered how fun it is. But, I’m a little tired. Going for a walk sounds tiring, and it’s not quite bedtime yet, so I’ll just take a glance at a few more videos since I’m already here. My feet are a little cold from being here on the couch for an hour, but luckily I’ve got a blanket as well.

Leisure time is so important, and I have no time for hustle culture. My sacred down time is under attack by these patterns, all from apps that want me spending more time on them with plenty of ways to hook me in. I enjoy turning off my brain and relaxing, but I’ve noticed it’s so much better when it’s on my terms. When I think about how I feel after 30 minutes of letting my mind wander on a walk versus 30 minutes of scrolling, it’s night and day.

I don’t have any quick fixes or easy answers. I’ve struggled with this for a very long time. I’ve gotten much better at dealing with it, but I find I have to remain conscious of it. That’s where admitting defeat helps; I know how my brain works, and I can work with it. Let’s not install that app with the infinite scroll, since we can probably get by with just the mobile web version. Let’s not log in, unless there’s a reason you need to, since they’re after you with recommendations for your account. Let’s try to be conscious of how much time you end up spending on certain sites.

There’s a broad pattern these days of mobile sites being much worse and more restrictive, since they’re trying to push you towards logging in or downloading the app. Ironically, being conscious of my struggle, these moments of friction actually help push me towards closing the site instead. For that, I’m grateful for Reddit’s mobile UI.

Screenshot showing Reddit’s mobile UI telling me I can download the app to use infinite scroll

I don’t think I’ll be downloading the app today.