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That’s enough internet for today
How people set digital boundaries
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
This is an intervention. —Kate
If you haven’t had enough internet yet:
Many internetisms of yore (the early 2000s) have fallen out of favor. We don’t say “epic fail” anymore, for instance, and I’m even starting to get self conscious about using “LOL” (apparently, I should now be saying “ijbol”). But some of these linguistic artifacts are classics for a reason. When you find yourself a few videos into the weird side of YouTube or far down the Wikipedia page for “List of incidents at Walt Disney World,” what else is there to say but “that’s enough internet for today”?
According to KnowYourMeme, this phrase originated in the late ’00s, appearing on Reddit before moving onto Facebook. While the 2010s were not that long ago, it was a very different internet. The same way people speculate about what would happen if you gave a Victorian child a Cool Ranch Dorito, I imagine showing my high school self a TikTok video of horse-hoof trimming side-by-side with a Temple Run screen recording would elicit a similar incredulity.
Ten years later, not only are our thresholds for internet consumption much higher, but the content itself is far more addicting. With more and more of our daily life taking place online, it’s harder to know when it’s time to pull away. I often have to actively choose what kind of night I want to have: one where I cook myself dinner and clean my house and maybe see a friend, or one where I disappear into a TikTok hole for three hours, losing out on doing all those things and gaining nothing.
Over the years I’ve designated a few different markers for when I should snap out of it and log off—in other words, when I know that’s enough internet for the day. Bizarre pieces of the internet’s underbelly, like pimple-popping videos or covert footage of strangers arguing in convenience stores, start setting off alarm bells. How far must I have scrolled for TikTok to start offering me this?
I was curious what other people saw as their own signs to touch grass. I solicited answers from Instagram, and they fell into three distinct categories.
Algorithm Gone Wrong
Like my pimple popping videos, some respondents decide to tap out based on what their feeds start showing them.
“When something that was clearly *not* meant for me to see pops up,” Natalie says. For Elizabeth, that specifically means “the videos of the woman who saves, counts, brushes, and braids every hair she sheds.” (I unfortunately know the account she is talking about).
Another warning sign is when you realize you understand something that normal people are too busy living healthy, fulfilling lives to know.
“When I login to Twitter and realize I know who the main character of the day is,” an anonymous user shared.
Your Own Behavior
For some people, they don’t realize they’ve been online too long until it’s too late: They’ve started posting their own weird content, or otherwise behaving in a broken way. For Tyler, it’s as simple as him realizing he mindlessly reopened an app he literally just closed, but for Ethan, it’s when he catches himself mid-argument.
“Any time I start typing an angry reply to a total stranger,” he says.
Another respondent has a similar boundary, but makes sure to cut themselves off as soon as they start to “get really strong opinions about some random person with a bad take.”
For Leah, she never knows until the worst has already happened: “When I do a Bad tweet.”
This category is for the true online soldiers: The people who have pushed past all other warning signs until their bodies have no choice but to step in. For Kim, it’s his physical surroundings that tip him off: when the air in his home or office starts feeling “stale” and he needs to go outside.
But both Kara and Rachel scroll until their eyes literally can’t take anymore, with Rachel only stopping once they “start to burn” and Kara when things start to “black out at the edges.”
A number of tools exist to make sure things don’t get to that point, or to take the responsibility out of our own fickle hands. Ashley sets time limits for Instagram and YouTube, and says she’s “pretty good” about not getting on after. All of these thresholds we decide on—from the weird rabbit holes to the bad posts to physical pain to the time limit alerts—ultimately serve the same purpose: To, however briefly, give us an out-of-body experience. We’re forced to perceive ourselves from the perspective of literally anyone else: Who are we? What are we doing? What have we become?