My late grandmother’s brother passed away this morning. He was the closest I had to the living memory of Nani. I received the update on a family WhatsApp group, while I was scrolling for something else. A latest photo of him — tired face, standing with a crouched back, holding his son’s arm, attending the wedding of his grand-daughter, brought a rush of memories back.
We’re told he didn’t die of COVID, but we don’t know anymore.
I wanted to stop at that photograph. Stop and process the emotions his passing was bringing up.
However, my thumb swiped immediately to another chat as a friend wrote– “Any leads on RTPCR test for East Delhi?”
I began putting out the message on my social media channels and sharing it across other WhatsApp groups. The pain in my thumb arose as I swivelled it from one app to the other. A few people responded on Instagram and I quickly took screenshots, shared it with the friend.
I wish this was just a difficult day’s update, but it isn’t.
For the past two weeks now, my WhatsApp notifications are always on. My phone is on ringing mode. I am up before my morning alarm goes off. My thumb is perpetually hurting from the endless scrolling. A call from home is a cause of concern. News of known and loved ones being sick or departing pours in like a bulletin.
I am doomscrolling, in the hope there is something I can do to help. I am horrified as I’m writing this, but I’m also numb.
Meanwhile, other photos of my deceased grand-uncle start getting shared. A wave of emotion comes hurling back at me. Do I have time to share my thoughts with the family? I can’t simply write, RIP. He wasn’t some distant celebrity. He was one of the oldest standing reminders of my childhood in my maternal home. He would be the first to visit us when we arrived at my grandmother’s place. He’d bring jalebi or sugarcane juice, and make sure we come to his place, so he could overfeed us.
Just when I think I can write a condolence message, another friend messages, “Any leads for beds in Delhi? It’s urgent.”
I’m back to Instagram, sending an SOS message. My index finger and thumbs now having stinging sharp pain.
Every 10 seconds, I am checking my phone. Any new update? Any message that might need immediate attention? While waiting for responses, I’m on Instagram again.
For those living away from their families and loved ones, doomscrolling is not a distraction — it is the only option to stay connected.
I live in another country, away from my family based in India, and social media has been my biggest source of on-ground information outside of family and friends. I’m following updates of verified groups and accounts that are collating information. I’m getting to know of vulnerable groups and ways to reach out to them. I am reconnecting with those who are appealing for support and asking them how I can help. Doomscrolling is giving me hope. It is keeping me in my present. It is helping me stay updated.
Two leads for hospital beds in Delhi appear in my inbox. The generous folks, I’ve never met, send me numbers and links. I quickly resend them to another friend.
As I scroll through social media today, I see images of crematoriums and burial grounds, along with calls for plasma donors and oxygen tanks.
Ironically so, my social media feed has become the place for collective grief and collective solace.
My phone tells me my usage increased 45% than last week — I spent an average of four hours 40 minutes on it daily. Do I have a choice?
I finally put down my phone. I need a break. I need to drink water. I need to breathe.
Ten minutes later, another notification arrives. My dad’s brother has tested positive.