Dirt: Digital Resting Points break the feed
Why not take a break?
An examination of the Instagram account @sighswoon and relaxing images that interrupt our mindless scrolling, by Greta Rainbow.
Panting dog tap tattoo flash sheet tap sun selfie tap advertisement for pimple patches tap infographic about the eviction moratorium tap charcuterie board, flash on tap screenshot of a conversation about vaccines tap funny vanity plate tap embedded Spotify song tap a panning shot of a blue waterfall from above, its spray creating a rainbow, with a speaker emoji and the cursive text, “welcome to a digital resting point. stay as long as you like.” Exit app.
The digital resting point entered my Instagram Stories experience about a year ago. Artist, meme-maker, and hesitant influencer Gabi Abrão, @sighswoon, started posting iPhone videos of west-coast nature — swaying palm trees, heavy rain, a lapping ocean — accompanied by “congratulations!” or “something has happened! you’ve reached a digital resting point.” Typically there aren’t people in the frame, making it easier for the viewer to place themselves within the image. There aren’t even objects. They are filterless. Users soon adopted her words to caption their own scenes of analog life.
“Stay as long as you like” isn’t literal; an Instagram Story lasts 15 seconds. It’s more like “Stay off.” The concept for these clips is to act as intentionality checkpoints along an Instagram journey, asking whether you want to keep going, or if you even know where you are anymore. Saying “congratulations” acknowledges that scrolling is work and now you can collect your prize, in the form of a break. Of course you can return later. It’s like harm reduction.
@sighswoon is a special account because Abrão is self-aware about the internet illusion. Her most viral post is a guide to having a positive experience on Instagram. She doesn’t think that you are “a mindless endorphin-chasing idiot for enjoying your phone time.” More than 82,000 accounts have saved that slideshow. I interpret it as an invitation to be your own curator of an activity the average person spends 53 minutes a day doing (and that stat is from 2018).
On Instagram, I’ve muted an entire clique. I successfully pretend the shopping feature doesn’t exist. I’ll still stay until I’m no longer having fun. I have experimented with the app’s time management tool and it’s not for me. (I actually think the feature benefits tech companies because it curbs cold-turkey uninstalls.)
A “chronoslip” is a term for the loss of time when playing video games, achieved because the game has its own sense of time and space. The chronoslip has killed people. Instagram is a billion tiny keyholes into individual time-space understandings (unique homes, bodies, breakfasts), and the digital resting point is a byproduct of our collective fatigue at processing them.
What these videos of geographically placeless water, sky, and sand most remind me of is the pop-up that appeared every 45 minutes on Nintendo’s Wii Sports: “Why not take a break?” under a line drawing of a window flung open to reveal a patch of aqua blue, with the remote left behind on the table. It’s hard to imagine any kid took the suggestion to heart, compelled by an empty idea of the outside world where there are no cheering Mii fans or a bowling alley within walking distance.
Some 15 years after Wii Sports I’ve been weakened — or strengthened? On the occasions that I encounter a digital resting point, I really do put down my phone, though for a cynical reason. While the caption demands an interlocutor, the video functions in a typical FOMO way. Its creator is resting at a waterfall and I am definitely not. The irony of someone going on Instagram (from a place that looks like it doesn’t have phone reception) to give me permission to log off is so annoying that it works!
The very ability to rest has recently been promoted as a political act. The Nap Ministry sees it as reparations and resistance for Black Americans, who are five times more likely to be sleep deprived than white counterparts. For everyone on social media, leisure secretly slips into labor. One, we are creating the content that makes Mark Zuckerberg rich, and two, to tap tap mindlessly weighs heavy on the eyes and the brain like busy work. Please, prod us into sleeping on the job.
The best digital resting points are Abrão’s interactive spin-offs: digital ritual points. In December she posted a salt circle in her empty apartment. “feel free to (visually or digitally) place anything within it that you wish to magnify or protect.” This isn’t just a break; it’s dreaming of something better. — By Greta Rainbow