Have we been TikToked?
Almost four years after the death of Vine (R.I.P), TikTok has taken over. While Vine offers you mere seconds to record your video, TikTok allows you to post clips up to 60 seconds long. In a world of excessive content consumption, or perhaps what might be termed as ‘addiction’, TikTok has definitely been the biggest winner of 2020. The 60-second clips are easily consumed without boring our five-year-old-like attention spans while still being long enough to allow for a wide range of creativity.This sets it apart from Vine, which mainly suited sketch comedy. After finishing the year that was 2020, a year dominated by TikTok and Covid-19, the question remains: have we become enslaved to TikTok, or are we still in control?
While in quarantine, I downloaded TikTok myself. At first I was sceptical, mainly because I associated it with dance trends more than anything else, but I was willing to try anything to cure my existential crisis.The Charlie D’amelios and Addison Raes of TikTok are very much integrated into the TikTok algorithm — especially when you first join. However, as weeks went on, I discovered the many sides of TikTok. I came across my saviour and also the source of my slightly-out-of-hand, deep love of houseplants, “planttok”. There are many “toks” in the TikTok sphere with “planttok” being only one of thousands, but, in many ways, it changed my life for the better.
I know the very idea that 60-second clips can change your life in any way sounds ridiculous and they weren’t the only reason why I fell in love with plants, but “planttok” was like adding gasoline to a small fire. My mum’s side of the family has always been in love with plants and I definitely appreciated them, but that’s about as far as my prior love and knowledge of botany went. Not to sound too spiritual, but seeing life thriving and growing is very therapeutic, especially during a pandemic. Now I have about fourteen plants and I couldn’t be happier with my new hobby. I have gained knowledge from TikTok on how to get rid of common houseplant pests and bugs and have a fountain of knowledge regarding plant keeping. I don’t rely solely on TikTok advice when it comes to my botanical specimens but it’s always nice to get someone’s personal experience with a similar problem you are having.
I believe that there is a lot of useful content on TikTok that is worth looking at. Another “tok” page I have enjoyed is “foodtok” which has expanded my mediocre cooking skills. And now that I live alone, it gives me a bit of variety in my meals so that I don’t end up eating pasta with a sauce from a jar for every course.
As much as I would like to sing these praises all day long, we must address the negative and often, the dark side of TikTok. I am the first person to say that I try to spend less time on my phone but TikTok is one of those apps that just makes you keep scrolling. Like eating pringles where once you pop, you can’t stop,you can keep swiping for hours and still not feel satiated. While a bit of escapism once in a while — especially in this climate — is quite healthy, I would go insane if I constantly consumed intellectual content and news every day. But I think most people will agree with me when I say that we as a society spend too much time scrolling.
The problem with TikTok and its addictive nature stems from the fact that they are little entertaining videos which is the platform’s unique selling point. Compared to Instagram or Facebook, where the main form of content is pictures, Tiktok content is by its nature more time consuming. Another addictive aspect of TikTok is the fact that the content is endless. When you scroll down on Instagram, it’ll eventually stop showing you new content because it works on the basis of the number of people you follow. With TikTok that is not the case; once you dive into that black hole of dance videos and mesmerising resin creations, you can waste hours — or a whole day — on this app. This addictive aspect of TikTok is definitely part of the reason why it has gained a bad reputation. I would defend the use of TikTok when it comes to adults. It’s everyone’s freedom to decide how much time one spends on social media. However, when it comes to children and teenagers, it’s a bit of a different situation as some might not recognise their social media usage as having a negative impact on them. I wonder if, in a few years time, there will be healthy social media usage recommendations for everyone?
With the recent ban of TikTok in India and the potential ban in the US there have been some concerns with regards to the privacy aspect of TikTok. Both governments state that they are concerned with TikTok being owned by a Chinese company, as all such companies abide by a rule that states that they have to hand over their data to the Chinese government if they request it. Data information and its possible use can be very harmful on both national and personal levels. Whether it’s the US, UK, China or any other country, I am not a fan of my data usage being given to any government. TikTok has rebuttled the threat of the US ban by stating that this law applies to only Chinese user data and that US data is stored elsewhere and does not fall under this law. Sharing data is scarily more of a reality than perhaps we would like to believe. I think that this is another issue which would need legislation in the future, but for now I think your choice is to either use social media apps and be aware of the fact that your data is being used by other companies or not use social media at all. And let’s be honest, I think all of us would choose to use social media.
So, have we become so obsessed with TikTok? Yes, I think we have in many ways, mainly because of its addictive nature, but I wouldn’t fully agree with the negative press over the past few months. When it comes to areas such as privacy and content consumption, we still have our ways to go, but this issue is not limited to TikTok. TikTok has just highlighted the issues that were already there. We all have the agency to limit our social media usage and censor the content we watch. I believe that TikTok is here to stay, so we just need to decide how we’ll use it and what we use it for.