Is the Invention of Infinite Scroll Destroying Us?


Ahmed Aqtai

Man scrolling through social media on his phone

In 2006, interface designer Aza Raskin was using the search engine Google. As he searched through the website, he began to become frustrated with Google’s multi-page design. It was tedious to go through numerous pages just to find a piece of information. In a spur of frustration, Raskin came up with an idea: what if as you scrolled through numerous search results, more results would load as you scroll down more and more?[1] Thus, the idea of infinite scroll was created. Despite this innovation being such a pioneering invention in the field of social media, Aza Raskin has expressed deep regret over his invention, apologizing profusely to humanity and wishing he never created it.[2] But why is that? Isn’t this invention optimal and efficient?

“One of my lessons from infinite scroll: that optimizing something for ease-of-use does not mean best for the user or humanity.”- Aza Raskin

While the intention was initially innocent in nature, designed to create an easy and seamless experience for the user. Raskin instead watched his simple creation be used by nearly all social media companies, altered in a way where they became weapons, attacking our attention spans, taking control of our urges, and of course, sapping us of all of our time.

“Yes. It’s a complete waste of time, but the things I find on there are so stupid and funny I can’t really stop myself.” – LHS Student, Tyler Hicks on popular social media platform TikTok

“It’s a curse dude, sometimes I’ll go to bed at like 10PM and I’ll just check TikTok, and then without realizing it, it’s 1AM.” – LHS Student, Aiden Vo on popular social media platform TikTok

To understand the reasoning behind why infinite scroll is so addicting, we must first look at the business model behind the social media giants using this technique. Now when you scroll through any social media, I am sure you have come across at least one ad on every unpaid platform. A prominent example of this would be YouTube. Before you’re able to watch a video on YouTube, you will most likely have to watch an annoying ad. Which will often recur throughout the whole video. This is how social media companies primarily make their money: through making you watch advertisements. The more ads you watch, the more profit they make off of you. In order to maximize the amount of profit they can make off of you, social media platforms have been trying to figure out how to maximize the number of time users spends on their platforms. Now, this is where infinite scroll comes in. With the meteoric rise of TikTok, short, fast-paced videos started to become more popular. As you scroll through each short video, you begin to trick your own brain. Since the videos are so short, you can just keep scrolling infinitely until you get to a good video, and you think that you’re not wasting your time because of the short duration of the videos. But in reality, hours are flying by.

“Because the videos are so short I think ‘oh, I can watch one more, it’s only one minute after all,’ and then the short I scroll to happens to be bad, so I say to myself ‘that was a bad one, I can’t end it off with a bad video,’ so I keep scrolling until I find a good video, and then I keep scrolling in hopes of finding a video even better than the good video I just watched. And then all of a sudden time flies by so quickly and then you really do realize that even though the videos are short, they really do add up.” – LHS Student, Lexy Dela Cruz on popular social media platform TikTok.

In a Forbes article about TikTok, Dr. Julie Albright compares TikTok to things like gambling and even the highly addictive drug cocaine. “When you’re scrolling … sometimes you see a photo or something that’s delightful and it catches your attention,” Albright says. “And you get that little dopamine hit in the brain … in the pleasure center of the brain. So you want to keep scrolling.”[3] This randomness of whether you see a good or bad video keeps you scrolling, it’s like gambling but with a much lower risk. You stay for the potential of a win, and if you lose, you just keep going. Scrolling requires no effort anyway, and since the videos are only one minute long, there is almost no drawback to scrolling through super fast. This causes your brain to go on a hunt for dopamine, continuously scrolling through each and every video just for that hit. It is this craving for dopamine that causes addiction in humans, as a study in China that examined how shorts affected Chinese college students discovered that “some research subjects lacked enough self-control to stop watching.” [4] Another thing worth noting is that shorts-based videos are linked to decreased attention spans. A study from the Technical University of Denmark found that a constant stream of information can decrease our attention span over time.[5] This constant stream of information that shorts-based infinite scroll projects on us can lead to over-stimulation and sensory overload. [5]
Sensory overload and overstimulation have been linked to depression and increased anxiety, which could also contribute to the growing rates of teenage depression and mental health issues. [6] If we as humans are used to having constant dopamine hits and instant gratification, we won’t be able to do normal activities such as eating at a dinner table with our family without you scrolling through our phones. The second you find yourself in a situation where your brain isn’t being stimulated by dopamine, you’re going to have constant urges to check your phone. This is especially evident in a school setting, where kids will be assigned an assignment, but instead of actually doing the assignment, they choose to go on their phones and scroll mindlessly. Not only will this negatively affect many students’ academic performance, but it can also be especially detrimental to the student and their relationships with their family or friends.

“Even though I know I need to get a lot of stuff done, I’ll always find myself scrolling through videos mindlessly, and as a result, I procrastinate and lose sleep” – LHS Student, Rowan Chien on the popular social media platform Instagram

What can you do about this? Consider going on a dopamine detox! A dopamine detox is a period of time where you detach yourself from dopamine-producing activities, such as going on social media or eating processed foods. Try to limit the amount of time you spend on social media if you can. You can add self-imposed limits, and add friction to make the access of these apps more difficult. Since those platforms aren’t going to do it for you (YouTube and Instagram should really have the option to disable shorts/reels). Think of it as like a test of your control, do you have absolute control over your body and decisions? If not, then how are you going to survive in the real world if you can’t control your urges? Take this challenge upon yourself to test your capabilities and self-control. Because as you begin to abstain from highly stimulating activities, you’ll already be ahead of the competition, and you’ll begin to realize that the world is a much more beautiful place than your phone.