The political economy of doomscrolling

The now-neverending stream of information shapes our perception of time. For many people, especially America’s news-intensive elites, it may make the war feel much longer than it actually has been.

This greater sense of witness to atrocities cements this impression. Each moral outrage, no matter how small, is taken in. Several generations ago, people may have heard that there was a big battle over a place called Dien Bien Phu. Nowadays, they can see, replay and share videos of people who died or were injured in the bombing of a theater in Mariupol. Each terrible event somehow feels more intolerable than the last, fueling the feeling that something must give and that the war has to end soon.

That is a dangerous feeling, if only because it makes it harder for leaders to pursue strategies of patience. Polls show high U.S. public support for a no-fly zone, although in my view that would lead to an unacceptably higher risk of escalating the war. This hawkish stance is not hard to understand. If the current situation feels intolerable, then surely something dramatic and decisive has to happen very soon — and better to act than be acted upon. At the very least action will imbue a feeling of having “done something.”

Doomscrolling-induced impatience also induces people to underrate Russian military prospects.

Here is the rest of my Bloomberg column on the topic.


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