Dustin Mitchell was reading local news one day when inspiration struck in an unlikely article. The report involved a woman who, in a fit of QAnon mania, destroyed a display of face masks at a Target store in Scottsdale, Arizona. The woman then explained what got her to that point: “All I did was doomscroll,” she said, referring to her voracious consumption of disastrous news on social media. Something clicked in Mitchell.
“This is a killer name for a band,” thought Mitchell, a metal guitarist in Dallas, Texas. “I must do it.”
Mitchell, 38, whose day job involves operations at Amazon, says no personally scroll of destiny. Mitchell isn’t much online; will check local news from time to time, possibly NPR, but doesn’t use Twitter or Reddit outside of researching new tools for his music. For Mitchell, Doomscroll was the impetus he needed to found his new “progressive thrash metal band”. To set it in stone, last February, Mitchell filed his first trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the word “scroll doom.” And a few months later, he received an email from the USPTO acknowledging that the brand would be approved in 30 days and then be officially released. At that point, Doomscroll would become the only one from Mitchell to protect and exploit as a band name and entertainment property. Doomscroll would someday rock. Mitchell registered www.facebook.com/doomscroll in advance.
In October, Mitchell was playing his guitar before bed when he decided to check his email one last time. A message from a lawyer appeared in his inbox. “Dear Mr. Mitchell,” he said. “My law firm represents Id Software LLC which owns the DOOM video game and its trademarks.” That day, October 13, it continued, was the deadline for Id Software LLC, or anyone else, to oppose its trademark application to register “doomscroll”. The lawyer asked Mitchell to agree to extend the deadline. In this way, Mitchell and the Destiny developer could find time to reach a solution before any legal action was initiated.
Mitchell immediately felt funny; also a little sour. He was 10 in 1993 when Destiny has taken the gaming world by storm, allowing Edgelord players to blast demons with a bevy of firearms against the backdrop of a fiery hell. Destiny Other Destiny 2 at the time, both of which he describes as “awesome” and had heard the metal-inspired soundtrack for 2020 Eternal Destiny, which he describes as “not bad”. Now Mitchell has found himself in an unexpected stalemate with his developer. He loved those games as a child, he says, but “they are trying to take away from me something that is completely foreign to them.”
The first use of scroll of destiny is often credited with a 2018 tweet: “Taking a break from the flow of fate and being inundated with things and things,” wrote artist Calla Mounkes. “I’ll be back on Tuesday or something.” Mounkes claims to have used the term since 2017 but isn’t sure she came up with it. “I think it was something that was emerging in our public consciousness,” he told WIRED via email. “When we’re all hooked on a smartphone, just as I’m writing this from one, it’s inevitable that we’ll find a language to describe our eternal fascination with social media.”
In 2020, as waves of coronavirus headlines, police violence and elections merged into a never-ending hurricane of morbidity, the term scroll of destiny hit the mainstream. Searches for the term have skyrocketed on Google, reflecting a collective compulsion to endlessly scroll through creepy news feeds on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other social media. It was a recognition of our masochistic tendency to obsess over the negative, a shared disease of the perpetually online. Everyone from boom parents to Stephen Colbert said it, did it, tried not to. “In such a situation, we engage in these more restricted and immediate survival-oriented behaviors. We’re in “fight or flight” mode, “University of Michigan School of Information professor Nicole Elisson said WIRED last year. Psychologists say doomscrolling erodes mental health, often arousing anxiety and depression.
A funny quirk of brands is that no one can brand “doomscrolling” as defined as an online outlet for mass hysteria. You cannot register a generic term used to describe or define a generic phenomenon or object. Apple, for example, cannot be registered as a trademark for apples, but it can be registered as a trademark for computers, because the word “apple” does not describe computers. As a name for a progressive thrash metal band, “doomscroll, in the musical context, is not generic or descriptive of music, musical performances or musical services. So, in theory, yes, you can apply to successfully register and register that brand,” he says. Anna Chang, a Sideman Bancroft attorney specializing in trademark law. “Assuming that there is no opposition which, in this case, there is”.
If there’s anyone more associated with the word, it’s Business Insider’s financial journalist Karen Ho. In April 2020, Ho caught on, frantic and anxious, tweeting late into the night, which interrupted her sleep. And it wasn’t just her; they were all the reporters he knew. He started tweeting reminders to drink a glass of water, stretch out, log out, go to bed. Soon, Ho became known on Twitter as “Doomscroll Reminder Lady”. Several times, she says, people have asked her to record the deadline for writing a book or selling merchandise.
“I’d just like one job, please,” he tells WIRED. Also, he says, he didn’t invent the term; he only divulged it (through, he estimates, about 55 interviews with journalists and scholars). Ho eventually outsourced his reminders to @Doomscroll_Bot, a Twitter bot that has amassed 16,000 followers since its creation in May 2021. In June 2020, Merriam-Webster added scroll of destiny at his “Words we are looking at“Category, who tickled the monkeys, who calls themselves a bookworm. She says she” always wanted to be a particular word coiner, so I feel like I made it. “
Chang says it’s quite typical for a company like Id Software to sneak into a filing of a brand like this one to prevent other people from using the term in a way that would create confusion about its product, in this case the video game. Destiny. In 2017, science fiction fans went wild when video game publisher CD Projekt Red registered the word “cyberpunk” in the EU for its open world noir game. Cyberpunk 2077. Cyberpunk is a time-honored genre; how could a Polish gaming company brand it? In an explanatory tweet, CD Projekt Red claimed was “just a self-defense measure”, adding that if someone else registers the trademark in the future, it could prevent the game publisher from doing, for example, Cyberpunk 7702. And anyway, CD Projekt Red had held the “cyberpunk” brand in the United States since 2011.
Identification software is firing on “doom” the same way. The company owns several brands around the word “doom” and video games; In the past month, the company has also filed opposition to the “ODoom” and “Doomlings” brands. Previously, Id Software had filed opposition to Maryland’s entertainment properties Doom Fest, Garden of Doom, and Doomsday Happy Hour. JB, the guy behind the Maryland Doom Fest, says he didn’t pursue the brand after Id’s initial opposition. It would have been too expensive, he imagines. Jeff, who tried to register a trademark Garden of Destiny, his podcast, claims to have reached an agreement with lawyers representing Id Software; says he can’t make a movie or video game called Garden of Destiny.
Right now, Doomscroll’s fate is in the hands of Id Software and the Patent Office. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board is reviewing the Destiny the developer’s opposition. A heavy testing program was sent out in mid-October, extending to 2023. It might not even be that Id Software wants the Doomscroll brand; he may simply not want Mitchell to form a progressive thrash metal band that, perhaps, some will confuse with the legendary game series.
Doomscroll may never swing. That might be a good thing; it may be too early for a band to remind us of our concentrated anxieties, addiction to social media negativity. Mounkes thinks it’s fine for other reasons. “I hope nobody makes money on ‘Doomscroll’,” he says. “It’s kind of a lame band name.”
This story originally appeared on wired.com.