Go down a rabbit hole

To "go down a rabbit hole" is to be distracted by a complicated process

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Down a rabbit hole

The expression I want to tell you about today is “down a rabbit hole.” This is one you can picture. We use this expression when you are entering into an unknown, disorienting, confusing place that’s hard to get out of. Usually we use this metaphorically; you’re not actually in a physical place. But a mental place. A mental place that’s confusing, disorienting, and hard to escape.

We usually use “down the rabbit hole” when someone goes off in a pointless direction that can do that person harm. The way I used it before is that you might not want to go down the rabbit hole of reading page after page of symptoms because it could lead you to misdiagnose yourself. Like, you might start off with a little bit of nausea. By the third page you click, you’re pregnant. By the fifth, you might have cancer. By the ninth page, you might have to cut off your leg. That’s going down a rabbit hole, when you probably just need some fresh air.

Often we use this as a way of cautioning someone not to do something, not to start something that will be pointless or a waste of time, frustrating. “I don’t think you want to go down that rabbit hole,” you might say, if you think someone is starting a pointless task that will only end up in frustration.

Here’s a great example. We’re vaguely aware of our online privacy these days, right. So let’s say you’re worried about your personal data being online. You want to find out what companies know about you—what does Facebook track about you? What companies does Facebook share its data with? What about cookies on the web sites you visit? That’s a rabbit hole. You’ll never figure it out. Your data is out there. You’re not getting it back. There’s no way to find out who has it. You just have to live with it. You can go down the rabbit hole of trying to track what every company knows about you, but you’ll never figure it all out, and you’ll just be miserable in the end.

Speaking of Facebook. Isn’t that the mother of all rabbit holes? You browse through it, then you see someone you knew a long time ago, maybe from growing up. Then you click through a few pages. That’s kind of like going down a rabbit hole. Or you click on a link to an article and then you click on the other links at the bottom of the article—the next thing you know, it’s two hours later. Classic rabbit hole.

I’m involved in an organization, I’m on the Board of Directors. And one of the other people on the board of this organization is extremely difficult to work with. At the beginning, I tried to figure out why she was so difficult. But I quickly realized I was going down a rabbit hole—no point in trying to figure out why she is the way she is; better to just try to deal with her as little as possible. I think I saved myself from going too far down the rabbit hole.


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Story: Dr. Google