By Emily Hanson || Layout Assistant
In the beginning of March I decided I’d had enough of my addiction to my phone. There was so much time that I could spend catching up with work, but instead I was scrolling through social media and making classwork a break from my scrolling. What ended up happening was an endless loop: I’d turn off my phone, pull up my work, and be unable to focus on the same task for ten minutes before I’d need to be back, scrolling through something. And that something tended to be — more often than not — TikTok.
For those of you who mourned the loss of Vine (the six-second video-creating platform) as much as I did, you probably have allowed TikTok to eat your time like I have. If so, you also know the dangers of this slippery slope from “five more minutes of phone time” to “it’s three a.m. but that cat is adorable and that recipe looks amazing,” et cetera. Vine dying in late 2017 coincided perfectly with the mid-2018 switch from Musical.ly to TikTok. The app went from predominantly featuring lip-syncing music to quick, witty videos without the six-second limit. I sometimes forget that TikTok actually started as a dancing app, since it rapidly grew in popularity from its users and their humor. But each video is up to sixty seconds long, and the creators use the app’s system to their advantage. It’s basically a break from paying attention to anything requiring large amounts of effort.
I’ve been sick in the week leading up to writing this article, and my brain just simply wants a break from the endless cycle of doing work and talking to people. It’s easy to be mindless and get lost in scrolling through videos that are designed for you to like them. The algorithm takes into account what you double-tap to “like,” what you skip, and how long you stay behind to watch the videos you’re interested in. On occasion I find myself skipping videos, even if I might like them, because my brain knows what will happen and it’s not worth the attention. Essentially, I no longer have an attention span.
This definitely hasn’t been helped by COVID-19 infiltrating the last two years of our lives. I was probably on TikTok every single day of the first quarantine time, from March 2020 until sometime the following winter — and the evolution of the app and the creativity of its creators grew tenfold. It was amazing (and a little bit scary) to see people produce that much content and the users, like myself, consume it with so much enthusiasm. Many creators’ followers shot up by millions overnight. An entire community came together to write and produce a makeshift musical, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, that actually premiered online in January 2021. Basically, TikTok became an epidemic within the pandemic; from my standpoint, it’s not really close to slowing down.
But my TikTok screen time was almost four hours daily this winter, and I can’t focus on my work at all. Not only that, I also find that when I try to take a break from TikTok and binge watch a TV show, I have to take multiple breaks, even per episode, just because my brain won’t let me pay attention. My phone is showing me exactly what I want to watch, under a minute long every time, and that instant gratification has me and the other one billion monthly users hooked in this cycle, damaging our ability to pay attention to other sources of entertainment and work.
The only consolation for this consistently-declining loss in ability to pay attention is the fact that I understand that my brain is impatient when I’m not immediately entertained exactly the way I want to be. Thus, this cycle is reversible. I’ve attempted to limit my screen time on TikTok to only two hours a day (which is still a lot, but baby steps) and limiting my overall screen time to only certain times a day. There are other ways I can be gratified with entertainment, even if they aren’t immediate. If you find yourself constantly scrolling mindlessly, try to be mindful of your app usage and consider taking small breaks once in a while. You’ll be surprised at how much healthier you feel.
First-year Emily Hanson is a Layout Assistant. Her email is email@example.com.