The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Doomscrolling got you down? Take a break at a digital rest stop.

People are craving ways to log off without really logging off.

All over social media, videos are inviting us to take a break. Watch this waterfall. Look up at the sky. Gaze at a steaming cup of tea sitting quietly on a counter. If you’ve encountered one of these, you’ve likely arrived at a digital resting point.

Digital resting points are videos intentionally created to give people a break from social media. They all follow a similar format: a soothing scene on screen, almost no people, a still camera, soft music or natural sounds. Then, voice-over or text appears: “Congratulations! You’ve reached a digital resting point. Stay as long as you like.”

The format was first popularized last year by Gabi Abrao, 27, a content creator on Instagram and TikTok. However, over the past year the idea has spread and evolved. There are digital resting points on every platform, and people are craving spaces that aren’t quite logging off, but aren’t fully checked in either. Even in live audio, people are seeking permission to join tranquil spaces by joining Twitter audio rooms that are silent or only feature the sounds of nature. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month, even more users turned to soothing digital rest point videos.

Jamie Kish, 36, a marine biologist and photographer, has created digital resting points on TikTok and describes it as the opposite of doomscrolling. Rather than passively consuming upsetting content, constructing a digital rest stop takes you away from the feed and offers others caught in the cycle a respite.

Kish’s resting points are often ocean-themed because she spends the majority of her days in the water, and she said just creating them has been therapeutic. “I don’t think I’m alone. It becomes suffocating at a point with all the trauma and horrible things happening constantly, affecting all the people you love,” she said. “Digital rest stops feel like an escape from all that.”

The format of TikTok and Instagram Reels lends itself to this type of immersive experience. Digital resting points fill your whole screen and are meant to be consumed with the sound on. But people create them on Twitter too, usually by posting an aesthetically pleasing photo or group of images.

Content made to relax and soothe the audience isn’t a new concept on social media. Slime videos, soap carving, nature videos, ASMR and other genres operate in this niche. But the phrasing on digital resting points transforms them into a reward. The “congratulations!” implies achievement. “Stay as long as you like” connotes a place.

“I liked the concept of a simulation in the app,” Abrao said. “Instead of posting a nature video you could pretend the user ended up there on purpose.” The format also has a meme quality, making it easily replicable and low effort to create. Anyone can create a digital resting point out of a simple scene. Suddenly, videos of the waves on an exotic beach, or a rainy cafe in Italy aren’t framed as bragging, repurposed for a digital resting point they’re now a public good.

Digital rest stops can be themed, the writer Kristin Merrilees recently noted on Twitter. Variants on the rest stop trend sometimes feature questions to answer in the comments, offer experiences such as crystal healing or feature specific types of resting points.

Some creators say that producing and consuming digital resting point content is a reaction to late capitalism and how much more online we’ve all become in the past two years. Their rise coincides with the growing popularity of slow living and trends such as cottagecore that embrace a technology-free life. “The very ability to rest has recently been promoted as a political act,” the writer Greta Rainbow wrote in the newsletter Dirt in 2021. “… For everyone on social media, leisure secretly slips into labor.”

Digital resting points remind users of the quiet beauty of the outside world, but they can be consumed only on your phone. Abrao said that’s part of the paradox. “It’s like, okay we created this art about escaping, but at the same time we’re all in the algo that’s giving us the reward for being on our phone,” she said.

The videos have subverted the notion that using TikTok or Instagram is restful. “Social media started out as an escape, social media was the rest stop throughout my day,” said Kish. “Now, with more information and life being brought to those digital spaces, you need a rest stop there too.”

Because the videos are so popular, some creators have even started creating digital resting points to gain views. “If someone is making content in this very consumerist clout casing way, but it genuinely does help someone, is that a net good or net bad?” asked Aiden Arata, a content creator in Los Angeles, who has created her own version of digital resting points incorporating guided meditation. “I can’t answer that.”

Brands have also begun adopting the format. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles tweeted about the resting points. Arata said that she’s had companies and organizations, such as Australia’s largest radio station, copy her work. “The girls’ voice-over cadence was even the same,” said Arata. “It was very creepy.” Moira Sullivan, 26, a sales executive in Philadelphia, who has created digital resting point videos, said that she prefers when real people make them. It feels less natural when a company is simply hopping on the bandwagon of whatever’s viral.

TikTok has attempted its own version of digital resting points. In 2020 the app began rolling out a campaign that featured top creators telling users to stop scrolling, get a drink of water and log off. The videos are served automatically to users who have been spending too much consecutive time on the platform.

The tone of the videos seems to shame users. Rather than inviting you into a restful space, the TikTok videos command you to put down your phone. The response to these videos has been negative. Some have thousands of comments saying they were frustrated that a large creator was trying to tell them what to do. Although TikTok’s official videos are served after a certain time period, part of the beauty of digital rest stops is that you can stumble upon one at any time in any context.

As the pandemic rages on and the war escalates, digital rest points speak to users’ desires for permission to log off, without fully logging off. “There’s such an overwhelming deluge of information,” said Arata. “I don’t think we’re all going to go join a commune, but, is there a way to actually work with technology and social media to give ourselves a break?”