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IMR: Tiktok & Other Time-Sucks

My stepdad likes to tell the story about how before college, he didn’t have a TV at home. For that reason, he spent his first two weeks at Oberlin glued to the television screen, binge-watching whatever played. I’m sure that’s a familiar feeling for many of us. Hard day? Bad things happening? Netflix is there. Watching a new show, or a familiar old show, lets us forget the woe and strife of everyday life… 

With new technology like smartphones comes new ways to waste an incredible amount of time. If experts hated TV and streaming for wasting people’s time, they must have had a field day (or a meltdown) over the sway these sparkly bricks now hold over the average U.S. citizen. According to the Pew Research Center, 85% of Americans today own a smartphone. For me, my phone means easy access to many wonderful things—an app to track my morning routine, an app where I play choice-based story games, Messages to text people, social media, and of course Tiktok.

For those unfamiliar with Tiktok, it’s basically a social media app made up of endlessly scrolling through videos. Most videos are short, between ten and fifteen seconds, but they can be as long as two to three minutes. Another significant feature of Tiktok is its algorithm: basically, its ability to figure out what you like based on the videos you watch and like. You can scroll through your “Following” page, which is the accounts you’ve chosen to follow, or your “For you” page, which shows you videos based on the algorithm’s projections of what you’ll enjoy.

Though Tiktok is technically a form of social media, I think it deserves its own category. Why? Because it’s tied together all the aspects that make social media addictive into one package—and then some.

  • Love watching numbers go up on a post? On Facebook and Instagram, you can only go off of likes or interactions. Tiktok shows likes, comments, AND views, because everything is video-based.
  • Tiktok’s algorithm is advanced; no one knows exactly how it works. Sometimes it’s uncanny how a video will feel directly targeted toward you.
  • On other apps, you eventually run out of content to consume unless you use the search function. Tiktok never ends. You can scroll for hours and hours and never stop seeing new content, unless you’re only looking through your “Following” page. 
  • Not only are most Tiktok videos short, but many of them capitalize on a number of popular “audios,” or sound bytes, to gain more viewers. Audios can be clips of a song, clips from a TV show or movie, or even a Tiktok user’s voice. Users of Vine or Musical.ly (back in the old days!) will recognize this behavior.

All of these factors boil down to one unavoidable truth: Tiktok is a super effective tool for escapists. Social media overall is mostly unproductive and a good way to zone out, but Tiktok takes it to a whole new level. My mom likes Tiktok! My mom hates all things technology so much that I grew up without TV! This is some serious escapism business.

I’ll admit that in the past, mindlessly watching Tiktoks became a tool for avoiding my uncomfortable reality. I’m trying to step away from that habit by setting a screen time limit, but sometimes I just bypass it. The limit is more so I can be aware when I’ve spent an hour on social media, and I think it helps. Sometimes it’s the nudge I need to put the phone down and do something else… like playing video games.

Just kidding! In fact, I’ve been on kind of a self-improvement kick lately. I think the school year started that for me, but now that I’ve built a more solid routine, I’ve been incorporating better habits into my days. You might be thinking, “good for her!” But hold on just a second. What if the act of striving for self-improvement is itself… AN ESCAPIST TACTIC?!

Tune in next time!

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