In an era of impeccable Instagram feeds and constant new, exciting content, you wouldn’t expect a photo of kimchi on a small metal plate or damp towels hanging out to dry to rack up 500 likes on Facebook.
But two weeks ago, one anonymous Facebook user launched the page “Nonstimulating Content Lab” to share precisely such pictures. The page is categorized as a mental health service and has already become a refuge for more than 7,000 online users overwhelmed by Internet stimuli. They are going wild over photos of traffic lights, drying eucalyptus leaves and spinning electric fans, among others.
The founder, who declined to reveal his name, said in a message to Korea Exposé that the idea came while scrolling through his Facebook feed — which he said used to be a platform just for people to check up on one another and share information — and realized there was overstimulating content everywhere.
“I feel like Facebook is constantly stuffing me full with overpowering seasoning,” he said. “And I thought we needed something to create a balance, to play the role of plain white rice or bread. So, when I say ‘nonstimulating,’ I don’t mean a lack of feeling altogether, but rather trying to balance out the things that overstimulate.”
(The url for the page contains “msgbalance.”)
In June, the page administrator revealed that its followers are all between the ages of 13 and 34. 86 percent of them are between 18 and 24 years old. In other words, these are young people active on social media and presumably overstimulated to the point of mental exhaustion.
Followers send in pictures themselves, which are curated and uploaded onto the page. And they are actively engaging with the page, providing their own feedback — some serious, others not so much — on how these photos make them feel. One user wrote, “This is really addictive ㅜㅜ Thank you for this healing page.” Another simply said, “I feel restored.”
But users also express objection to photos that they deem to be too stimulating. Some users thought the photo of kimchi was too much. Why? It reminded them of the food’s spicy and salty taste, or the color was too strongly red, or the plate was too big in comparison to the amount of kimchi. One even said it triggered memories of his days in the military.
In a society fixated on fidget spinners, ASMR audio and whatever it can get its hands on to soothe life’s chaos, Nonstimulating Content Lab’s existence is fitting yet ironic. It aims to project perfect banality and provide respite from the internet’s cacophony, but by highlighting “ordinary” images, the page elevates snapshots of mundane objects to the level of worthy content (and providing stimulation, albeit of a different kind). Even the administrator’s text and comments are written in soft, respectful tones with proper punctuation and no jarring internet lingo, suggesting careful deliberation in maintaining the overall feel of the page.
It’s a phenomenon one could liken to transitioning from regular to decaffeinated coffee — with no intention of swearing off coffee altogether. People are seeking soothing, quiet content in the same places they are constantly overstimulated. (If they are really tired of stimulation, why not just quit Facebook altogether?)
Regardless, Nonstimulating Content Lab has already attracted quite a following. But the administrator said he doesn’t have any commercial motivation, nor does he want to quickly expand the number of followers. He also frankly admitted that he is walking that fine line between non-stimulation and just being boring.
“Even if I pursue non-stimulation, nobody will pay attention to unappealing content, and ultimately this [project] would be nothing but a waste of time,” he said. “So I’m trying to add a certain detail to everyday things, so that I can create this new appeal, but one that is neither excessive nor forced.”
Cover image: The photo of kimchi on a round plate received more than 500 likes in less than one week. (Source: Nonstimulating Content Lab Facebook page)