• Kiera Pitts

Scream #1: Doom Scrolling and the messenger that is Patti Smith

Act I: Doom Scrolling

My God, I'm so lonely So I open the window To hear sounds of people To hear sounds of people

Nobody by Mitski

I am a perpetual Instagram doom scroller. It’s a problem that I am well aware of. A habit that I have quit for weeks at a time and then come back to out of sheer defeat. The hours that I would have filled in the world in the company of others--if I’m being honest, most likely still scrolling Instagram-- have been replaced by me scrolling alone in bed. Whether it’s in the morning before I get up, or at night before I pass out, Instagram is the balance stick I ruefully grip onto as I navigate a tightrope of semi-managed anxiety; the dread of either falling into a sleep plagued by odd nightmares spun by the discord of the Covid-19 world we all navigate, or before I get up in the morning, knowing that once I get ready I won’t have any real break until I’m back in my sheets that night.

I was never on Twitter, and very rarely go on Facebook, but Instagram remains the visual glaze of artificial disassociation from my current reality that I hit up the most. Unable to leave the confines I have created to insure the safety of my friends and family from the virus, Instagram has become one of my sole providers of relevant arts, culture, and activism. The convenience of all of these facets coalescing on one platform makes it nearly impossible to leave, even though I think about it every time my iPhone passive aggressively bombards me with a notification informing me of my average screen time usage over the past week.

Last fall I watched the documentary The Social Dilemma, and in 90 minutes I became well aware of the tools of manipulation that anonymous programmers are constantly improving to coerce users into addictive patterns of interaction with the apps under the Dark Lord (Mark Zuckerberg). It spun me into a tailspin, as I took it upon myself to relay the horrifying information to friends and family over and over again, attempting to convince them to swear off the frankensteins of Silicon Valley that are social networking sites along with me. This was mostly motivated by my FOMO. If I could convince my friends not to participate in the system, then I wouldn’t be plagued by my own curiosity as to what I was missing in the ether.

I don’t think anyone else took a step back at the same time. Most of my friends gauge the level of dysfunction in their relationship with social media on their own, and the shock value of the facts in this documentary were less surprising to them than they were to me. I had to carry on with my temporary deletion by myself.

And I miss you I'm goin' back home to the west coast I wish you woulda put yourself in my suitcase West Coast by Coconut Records

I lasted about two months.The moment I re-downloaded the app I was reminded that, having moved nearly 2,000 miles away from the community I was a part of in Chicago, the only way I was getting surface level life updates of my mutual friends was through Instagram. Acknowledging this opened some sort of permissive door, as I dove right back into my previous habits under the guise of “keeping in touch.”

Now I’m grumbling in my role as a user once again, relaxing into an attitude akin to a dissatisfied housewife; too dependent to leave, but too informed to operate in blissful ignorance.

Do I give up social media, and therefore give up the skimmed updates of my friends, artists, and activists? Do I instead spend time investigating the source of this content I so enjoy with more intention? Or do I continue to doom scroll in bed? As of today it’s still the latter—mostly because I’m languishing, which according to this article in The New York Times “dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work.”

All of this has brought Kathy Bates character Evelyn Couch from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes to mind. Her character is so steeped in the suburban mediocrity that has permeated her life that she has resigned herself to this existence. Her source of regular joy are Snickers bars she keeps well stocked in her purse, her chosen vice to stimulate her underserved pleasure center. That vice for me? That sweet sweet scroll.

At some point in the second half, she is inspired to make a change by the tales of a woman she meets at her husband’s aunt’s nursing home. Fed up with being taken for granted day after day she takes action in the parking lot of Winn Dixie when two young women in a bright red bug take the parking spot she’s been waiting for. When she vocalizes that they have taken her spot, they snub her. Instead of dismissing the event, she intentionally crashes her car into the back of their parked bug as she screams “TOWANDA!!!” They can’t do anything but watch in shock.

One day I very well may “TOWANDA!!!” the fuck out of my online accounts just like Evelyn Couch. I’ll buy a kickass visor and ram my finger on the permanently delete button in her spirit of, but for now I’m going to languish.

Act II: The messenger that is Patti Smith

She is the root connection She is connecting with he Dancing Barefoot by Patti Smith

Doom scrolling in bed a couple of weeks ago, I found out from Patti Smith that queen Elizabeth II’s husband Prince Philip had died. In the hours after the palace announcement, she had posted this black and white portrait from the couple’s engagement taken in 1947 with the caption: “This is//a lifetime.”

The poet laureate of rock knows grief well. Her memoir Just Kids details her relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of complications of HIV/AIDS at the age of 42. Her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, died unexpectedly at the age of 46 when their children were just 12 and 7. She didn’t get the lifetime with either of these men that the queen and prince were granted, and I couldn’t help but think that that’s what was running through her mind as she constructed the caption to her post.

Last Saturday, the prince’s funeral took place at St. George’s chapel on the grounds of Windsor Castle. Dozens of photos began saturating my discover page, the algorithm obviously recognized that I was invested to some degree in the happenings of the royal family. I of course scrolled.

The funeral was a fraction of what it would have been, but still impressive. Covid-19 protocol minimized the attendees to the 30 or so immediate family members of the couple, and once they were in the chapel, they were made to sit heavily distanced with those who they shared pods with. Nobody from the family spoke. The photo that has stuck with me as a result is simple: the queen sitting alone per the restrictions, a handbag where her husband would have been.

We all end up sitting alone in grief. Queen Elizabeth, the figurehead of a nation, was then captured as the figurehead of grief as well.

I asked my roommate Olive if she thought that the queen would end up dying soon after Philip, in the vein of those couples who are married for a lifetime and pass away within hours of each other.

“No,” she answered quickly, “She’s not one that would die just because her husband is gone. She’s The Queen.

I think Olive is right. She will go on, as it is her duty. Patti Smith did, and so are millions of others who have lost their people-partners, parents, friends, and family in all forms— in the last year. It’s good to be reminded of this, even in the hellscape of my Instagram feed.

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