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digital reststop

Digital resting stops: the next big thing or virtual Stockholm syndrome?

Featuring soothing clips of natural phenomena, digital resting stops have become a respite for users wanting to press pause on our increasingly digitised lives

Picture this: you’re scrolling through your Instagram stories. There’s a 30-second clip of your coworker on a night out. Tap. A meme about e-girls. Tap. Images of Russian tanks invading a Ukrainian town. Tap. An image of Boris Johnson in that Miu Miu skirt. Tap. An infographic about the climate crisis. Tap. A video of palm trees swaying gently in the wind. “Welcome to a digital resting point,” reads the caption. “Stay as long as you like.”

Featuring soothing clips of natural phenomena – the pattering of rain, lapping ocean tides, waterfalls and vibrant forests – digital resting stops have become a respite for users wanting to take a break from our increasingly digitised lives. A proponent of CalmTok, a corner of the platform dedicated to peaceful clips of nature and cosy and domestic vignettes designed to relax and rejuvenate, these soothing scenes are geographically ambiguous, with almost no people and ambient music designed to still the senses.

The format was first posted by Gabi Abrão, a 27-year-old content creator on Instagram and TikTok. “I was inspired by the ‘Congratulations! You won!’ scam pop-ups that graced internet explorers during the 90s and 00s, as well as the ‘Something Has Happened!’ notifications on Neopets,” she explains. “I also had all this peaceful nature footage in my camera roll that I wanted to put a purpose to that felt more like digital art or a meme, as opposed to just another story post.”

Since then, digital resting points have grown in popularity, as people search for new ways to switch off without switching off entirely. “I like the video game-esque simulation of it – the simulated sense of reward and location on a 2D, digital screen,” says Abrão. “Technically, digital resting points are just videos of calming scenes. But, with the simple reframing and meme-ification of it, it becomes something new, a sense of direction and a new feeling.” Even TikTok has attempted its own version of the format. In 2020, it launched a campaign that saw the platform’s top creators tell users to stop scrolling and log off.

Given that social media translates our IRL lives into URL content bytes, digital resting stops give us breath to pause from the neverending churn of the content mill. Posting an image or video of nature resists algorithmic pressure to post Zuckerberg-friendly content, such as selfies, while providing people the opportunity to stop mindlessly scrolling the feed. “I don’t believe they work in the sense that they fill someone with automatic peace,” adds Abrão. “I think digital rest points more so remind you that rest is possible, rest is a choice you often have to make, and beauty is all around us. You can turn your phone off right then and go take a walk instead.”

“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,” says Bxb Love, a content creator who started posting digital resting stop videos earlier this year. “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.”

@calflyn Congratulations! You have reached a digital rest stop. Stay as long as you want. #digitalrestingpoint #calmtok #calm #soothingvideos ♬ Arvo Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel - Duo Cassadó

While digital resting stops are still a relatively new phenomenon, the use of nature in combatting the stressful impact of technology has been around for decades. Japanese interior music, a strand of Japanese minimalism that emerged in the 80s to soundtrack the country’s economic boom, consisted of ambient soundscapes made to emulate natural phenomena. Inspired by the natural scenes outside his window, Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Music for Nine Postcards, for example, was written to accompany the interior of Jin Watanabe’s Hara Museum in Tokyo, while cosmetics brand Shiseido commissioned 1984’s barely-there A・I・R to complement its pine and rain-scented fragrance. The juxtaposition of these natural sounds was meant to act as a soothing balm against the era’s harsh urbanisation. Elsewhere, the green hills and blue skies of Microsoft’s OG screensaver (aptly titled ‘Bliss’) and Nintendo Wii Sports’ reminder to “take a break” against snapshots of blue skies both utilise images of nature to negate the onrush of invasive technologies.

Fast-forward to the present day and digital resting points function in much the same way. But instead of encouraging users to switch off entirely, they operate within a social media platform, where leisure and labour go hand-in-hand. Each click, like and post creates content that lines the pockets of Silicon Valley execs, who have already made billions out of people’s need to connect online. So, creating additional content to escape the already overwhelming stream of content feels less like a ‘resting point’, and more like a virtual form of Stockholm syndrome.

Then again, the small joy that you experience when you encounter a digital resting point cannot be ignored, neither can peoples’ social media addictions and the reality of content wormholes. Besides, any format that gives us time to pause and reflect is a welcome respite from doomscrolling Twitter or spending hours consuming content on TikTok. Yes, we’re still operating within a platform. But, like shitposting, the anonymous quality of watching geographically placeless waterfalls or mountain views is strangely liberating – lest you actually log off entirely and experience the world IRL.