During lockdown, I did many things I probably wouldn’t have done under any other circumstances.
I watched all twenty seasons of Keeping Up with The Kardashians, shaved my head, and downloaded TikTok. Back in 2020, despite its growing popularity, TikTok was still considered a silly app for dancing videos and amateur comedy skits. Now, it’s nearly impossible to escape it, as publications ranging from VICE to Vogue report on its phenomena and newest trends.
Initially, TikTok felt like a breath of fresh air, a social media platform I had been waiting to discover my entire life. “Are you not on TikTok yet?” I would annoyingly ask my roommate at any given opportunity. Everything I was subjected to felt compelling and tailored to fit my interests. Putting the phone down was difficult. At one point, I spent the first four to five hours of my day on TikTok until my phone battery ran to zero.
At the end of last year, I decided to quit TikTok. As someone born in 1996, I occupy a weird space between Millennials and Gen Z. Some sources claim I’m the former, while others categorize me as the latter. Upon making my decision, I was expecting a mixed reaction from my Zoomer pals because they are the assumed target audience. “You still watch short videos on Instagram. What’s the difference?” one of them asked.
The feedback of my millennial friends was less vocal, though it impacted me more directly. There are only as many times you can message someone back, saying: “I can’t open this link. I’m not on TikTok anymore, remember?”. The frequency of engagements dropped considerably. Despite that, I knew that my decision to quit was justified. I have used social media since the late 2000s, starting with Facebook and Tumblr, all the way to BeReal and Threads. However, no other app has ever impacted me as negatively as TikTok.
After I noticed the difference in my attention span, I knew things had to change. While using the app, the comforting 60-second video format kept me amused, interested, and encouraged to keep scrolling. Outside of the platform, things began to feel different. Watching various interviews has always been a passion of mine. After joining TikTok, I would get annoyed at the content conversations, begging the interviewer or interviewee to hurry up with juicy details or zing a punchline faster.
But now I’ve realized that this app does not work for everything. Life is too nuanced. And cannot be expressed in a one-minute clip. Back when I experimented with creating my own TikTok content, I noticed that the app displayed my video to a small audience immediately after posting, like a test group. If that group engages with it instead of skipping, more people will get a chance to see it. Simply put, your content has a small window to win over a small vetting system. So, the stakes are high.
For that reason, TikTok videos stimulate the viewer with action within the first couple of seconds. This hyper-fixation of getting users’ attention quickly doesn’t allow much space for people to remain natural. I can appreciate the art of satisfying the audience with a concise execution, like a good pitch that gets an idea across to a commissioner. However, I don’t think it’s healthy in our fast-paced society to promote short-length content. Aren’t our lives already fixated enough on getting places quickly and organizing our time efficiently? Do we really need to spend hours wasting away on TikTok? If something is enough of a phenomenon, it will make its way onto other social media platforms sooner or later.
When I quit TikTok, it took me months to fully enjoy long-form videos again without that passive, complaining voice at the back of my head. What still bothers me is that I lost a significant source of inspiration for my articles. As a freelance writer, I must constantly come up with suggestions for journalistic pieces I then pitch to editors. With so many various trends having their genesis on TikTok, from fashion to social issues, it can be difficult to navigate ideas without access to TikToks’ bottomless well. But hey, it is worth it.
The app also made me out of tune with my emotions. Observing so many strangers cry, mourn a loss, get into verbal or physical fights in public, or bravely get candid about their mental health all day, every day, was not healthy. One minute, I watched someone have the adrenaline rush of their life as they jumped out of a plane. Next, I felt heartbroken for a person who cried about being unable to pay rent that month. It’s a rollercoaster; I’m not fit to ride.
There is a fine line between appreciating courageous individuals speaking out on important issues and making it into a circus for clout. The platform’s comments sections can often feel polarized and toxic, which is already the case on Twitter, though on TikTok, it’s also mixed with a rapid, numbing content style.
Since quitting the app, I am calmer and more patient. My energy levels are much better. However, in this digital sphere, I’ll still consume some short-form content somehow. But I don’t think that TikTok is currently healthy, especially for teenagers in the most developmental stage of their lives. Perhaps, I was overdoing the app. Or perhaps not?
Either way, I’m better off without it and have more time on my hands.