One of the ways my anxiety disorder sinks its teeth in is by spinning simple questions up until they seem like burning matters of either unreachable perfection or moral urgency.
A question like “how can I know if a clothing company is ethical?” led to a multi-hour internet rabbit hole on how that standard is regulated and whether those regulations are regulated etc. A passing curiosity about how tree-planting programs work led to me researching not just tree-planting but the entire concept of carbon offsets and the ways in which they can be corrupted or misused.
If I’m obsessing about something in this way, putting that thought down is near-impossible. The rational realisation that time spent thinking in this way about these questions is a matter of diminishing returns – that the hours spent locked in worry-led link-following are worth less than 20 minutes of calm, engaged research – doesn’t sink in until something wrenches me away from my thoughts. Usually, the best way to stop a runaway thought-train is just to wait until another one arrives.
The specific questions range from relatively sensible to completely frivolous. Some are so first-world that I get embarrassed that I spent time thinking about them.
A common thread across many of these sticking points is finding systems. For example – finding the optimal-for-me way to approach owning and storing media/possessions; deciding what sites/ ecosystems/ services I am ok with using and which ones I choose to avoid; deciding on the least-unethical way to purchase an item etc. So for these smaller questions I’m wondering whether giving in to my wish to detail the system or the rules from first principles – so that I can be 100% sure that I have an answer, regardless of whether its an optimal answer – is worthwhile if it means stopping that particular thought-train from leaving the station again.
Now seems like a good time to get those kind of systems in order. If I write down something I’m thinking about or wondering about in a logical way, my argument and my answers become stronger and more concrete than if they stay rattling around my mind. So in theory, if I figure out a system and write it down, I can prevent repeats of that question by remembering that I already thought about it and demonstrating that I already developed an answer.
As many of these questions are linked to digital media, digital services, or technology use, calling these posts “technological overthinking” seemed like the best option. However, some questions are non-digital in nature.
The current Technological Overthinking list: