Digital resting stops, which feature relaxing videos of nature-themed digital visuals, have become a haven for users looking to take a break from their increasingly computerized life. But, does it make sense?
Consider the following scenario: You’re scrolling through your Instagram stories. There’s a 30-second video showing your coworker having a good time, a meme, and images of Russian tanks attacking a Ukrainian village shown on the screen. You continue to tap, now there’s an infographic about the climate crisis, and then a video of palm trees gently swaying in the wind. The caption reads, “Welcome to a digital resting stop, you can stay as long as you want.”
Digital resting stops, which feature relaxing footage of natural phenomena such as rain, lapping ocean tides, waterfalls, and bright forests, have become a welcome escape from our increasingly computerized life. CalmTok, a section of TikTok dedicated to serene clips of nature, warm and home vignettes made to relax and revitalize, is another iteration. These calming scenes are geographically ambiguous, with nearly no people and ambient music designed to calm the senses.
Gabi Abro, a 27-year-old content creator on Instagram and TikTok, was the first to use the format. She was inspired by the ‘Congratulations! You won!’ scam pop-ups that graced Internet Explorer during the ’90s and ’00s. She also happened to have all this peaceful nature footage in her camera roll that she wanted to put to good use.
People have been looking for new ways to switch off without completely turning off, and digital resting stops have risen in popularity since then. Even TikTok has experimented with its own take on the concept. In 2020, it launched a campaign in which the platform’s top producers advised users to log off and stop scrolling.
Because social media converts our real-life lives into URL content bytes, digital resting stops allow us to take a break from the never-ending churn of the content mill. Posting a photo or video of nature defies algorithmic pressure to post Zuckerberg-friendly content like selfies, while also allowing users to take a break from constantly scrolling through their page.
Bxb Love, a digital resting stop artist who began publishing them earlier this year shared: “I decided to start sharing digital rest stops because I felt like it was an opportunity to give myself and others moments of reprieve from digital scrolling – moments that aren’t about consuming information, opinions or projections. We are constantly being bombarded with ideas about how we are not enough or need more or should be doing more, so I felt inspired to share something that wasn’t about giving out more to be consumed in that way.”
While digital rest breaks are still a new phenomenon, the use of nature to counteract the stressful effects of technology has been around for decades. Japanese interior music, a subgenre of Japanese minimalism that arose in the 1980s to accompany the country’s economic expansion, consists of ambient soundscapes inspired by natural phenomena.
Hiroshi Yoshimura composed Music for Nine Postcards to accompany the interior of Jin Watanabe’s Hara Museum in Tokyo, for example, while Shiseido commissioned 1984’s barely-there A・I・R to complement its pine and rain-scented fragrance.
The juxtaposition of these natural sounds was intended to be a calming balm against the harsh urbanization of the time. Similarly, Microsoft’s first screensaver (aptly titled ‘Bliss‘) uses an image of nature to counteract the onslaught of invasive technologies.
Fast forward to now, and digital resting stops function in a similar manner. They work within a social media environment, where pleasure and labor go hand-in-hand, rather than urging users to turn off completely. But, on the other side of the coin, creating more content to escape the already overwhelming stream of content feels more like a virtual type of Stockholm syndrome rather than a “resting stop.”
However, the modest satisfaction you get when you come across a digital resting point, as well as people’s social media addictions and the reality of content wormholes, cannot be overlooked. Besides, any medium that allows us to pause and contemplate is a nice break from doomscrolling.
Photo via The Washington Post