My daughter dropped by.
"What’s up?" she asked.
I was at the computer.
"Just checking the latest in all that is excessive, outrageous, unproductive and irresponsible," I said. "The news, in other words."
"You’re doomscrolling," she announced.
"Is it illegal?"
Yes, friends, this, too, is a thing — doomscrolling.
When I was at Stony Brook University a few years ago imposing on spellbound young people my exalted journalistic views, we would discuss the idea of "confirmation bias."
This is a brainy term for paying attention only to news substantiating your belief that things are falling apart and it’s all the other guy’s fault.
"I told you this country is kaput," you might call out to your wife after scanning the morning headlines. "Do you think we’d be happy in Reykjavik?"
At the journalism school, we urged young folks not to "silo" themselves this way — to read widely, switch channels, challenge assumptions.
No doubt my stirring comments are recited verbatim by thankful graduates whenever they ponder happy college days.
Doomscrolling is an offshoot of "confirmation bias" but with an odd, self-punishing twist.
In this case, you are not simply looking to justify your opinions but, more to the point, provide nourishment for a dismal world view that permits you to spend the day shaking your head and screaming at network anchors.
Experts ask whether a glum temperament precedes doomscrolling or if the addicted become hooked because they seek only stories about political corruption, economic uncertainty, overseas chaos, criminal activity and toilet tissue shortages.
"Now you look around yourself, and everything feels gloomy, everything makes you anxious," clinical psychologist Amelia Aldao tells National Public Radio. "So you go back to look for more information."
After a half century in newspapers, I admit to a certain fixation on tidings that promise neither comfort nor joy.
Reporters are always fishing around for terrible stuff in the belief that if you tell constituents the mayor has been playing the slots with funds from the highway contingency fund, taxpayers, if they choose, will exile the rascal come Election Day. Sometimes works out, sometimes doesn’t.
I once told the Stony Brook journalism kids that if I owned a daily paper — little chance — there would be no good news. Every story about a Cub Scout anti-litter campaign kills a piece about the latest convenience store stickup. Which do readers most need, I would ask?
"Huh?" the students inquired, abruptly awake.
Oh, all right, I was exaggerating.
It’s fine to run features on singing kitties, recipes for Christmas cookies and gardening columns extolling organic mulch, but, in general, I’m partial to accounts of deceit and dysfunction — early warnings of a sort. Perhaps this why no one has ever said: "Him? Oh, yeah, he’s a really fun guy."
But am I really the dour fellow doomscrolling might suggest? No, I plead, no.
Why, just the other day I suggested to my wife we watch a TV comedy and not our usual dark BritBox police procedurals — murder and madness on the British highlands, that sort of thing. It’s good for mental health, I conceded, to spend a night away from the homicide squad.
Also, I lately find myself reviewing fond memories more than usual — the opposite of doomscrolling, I will insist to my daughter.
Here’s one that popped up unexpectedly:
Some years ago, we had dinner with friends not seen in decades — my wife’s old college roommate and her irrepressible husband, the Lutheran minister.
In conversation, the couple mentioned they soon would be attending a formal affair. The minister, sipping a martini, drew me close and whispered that his wife would be wearing his favorite little black dress. "Foxy," he declared.
When the good woman excused herself to the restroom, the pastor quickly hailed a waiter. "Bring me another — pronto if you can," he said tapping the martini glass. "My wife might not approve."
This little tableau strikes me as gorgeous — a lovely, life-affirming moment, the mellow, more-than-middle-age churchman surreptitiously ordering another round and anticipating the sight of his wife in a fetching outfit and what — if things worked out — would follow.
It offers a lesson to remember while reviewing the morning paper.
Doom and gloom are powerful forces but, happily, not much competition for a little black dress.