by Katherine Dee
Friday, 24
December 2021
Idea
15:00

Why do I spend so much time on TikTok?

There's a reason I'm on the app for four hours a day
by Katherine Dee

There’s something about TikTok eclipsing of Google in web traffic that felt almost inevitable.

According to my iPhone, I spend an average of 4 hours a day on TikTok. Between 5AM and 7AM, when I first wake up and between 11PM and 1AM, long after my boyfriend has dozed off and I’m preparing to sleep. I am easily viewing a little under 1,000 TikToks a day. Now scale those numbers to whomever is behind its 3.3 billion downloads; it’s not so crazy to see why it has claimed the web’s number one spot in traffic.

But why do people spend so much time on TikTok? Why do I spend so much time on it?

@theothergiant

Post-Soviet life #fyp #foryoupage #sovietaesthetic #postsoviet #xyzbca

♬ Судно (Борис Рижий) – Molchat Doma

TikTok invites heavy, trance-like usage unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. You’re lulled into a state of never-ending swiping, 15 to 30 seconds of a catchy song looping over everything from impoverished men dancing in drag to the ruins of the USSR to enticing recipes. In a single minute, you’re rubbernecking, getting angry about communism and feeling hungry.

It does something to you that Google, or even other social media apps, could never compete with.

You might compulsively Google questions or scroll photos on Instagram, but TikTok asks nothing of you. It doesn’t even need to hear your idle thoughts, via a Googled question or a status update on Facebook or Twitter.

So sophisticated is the app that it knows the exact kind of videos you want to view. This is at once acknowledged as a sign that TikTok may not be trustworthy and celebrated, as demonstrated through the popularity of TikTok psychics and tarot card readings, where it’s common to believe you’ve “manifested” the video you were supposed to see. A disturbingly specific video might make you think, “this app is violating my privacy,” but it also takes on an almost magical quality. It knows you, and that could be used for good, even if there’s also a capacity for malevolence.

But is it the user interface alone that makes TikTok so powerful, even in a climate where people are increasingly distrusting of Big Tech? While that’s a big part of it, I think something else is afoot, too. TikTok is alluring for the same reason you go looking for advice on Reddit: it’s unfiltered. It is humans offering advice to other humans. TikTok shares that humanity. It’s mediated by a screen, but it feels real.

Manicured influencers abound just like any other app, but for the most part, videos are messy, bizarre, unpredictable. It mirrors the unpredictability of human-to-human interaction in the physical world, but without any of the legwork. Reinforced by an addictive UI and a spate of seemingly never-ending restrictions on how we socialise, no wonder people can’t stop swiping.

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Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
9 months ago

Forgive me for sounding a curmudgeonly note on Christmas Eve, but when I read articles like this I consider myself supremely fortunate to have grown up before ID Politics, Social Media and Mobile Phones became ubitiqitous (and iniquitous) parts of our lives.
The entire public discourse and debate would be immeasurably improved if everyone deleted TikTok, Twitter, Facebook (and no doubt a hatful of other platforms that I’m too disinterested and luddite to have encountered.)
Not only do they eat increasingly large portions of peoples’ day, they seem to kill conversation and generally sap people – they’re the digital equivalent of cud-chewing, a mindless monotony done without thought or enthusiasm.
Not to mention that the vast majority of ugly hate stories, “cancellations” and offence archaeology that fills all media channels began life on one of these platforms. I don’t read Twitter, I never have and never will open an account. Yet its daily tide of misery and bile is wholly familiar to me because all those journalists who spend their days denigrating it, can’t seem to help themselves from reporting on its every ebb and flow.
Perhaps if every journalist who purports to hate apps like Twitter stopped gawping at them for hours of the day – and certainly stopped writing about them – the problem might diminish.

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas

Julie Blinde
Julie Blinde
9 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Merry Christmas likewise.
But is this comment site any different ?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
9 months ago
Reply to  Julie Blinde

Are there any similarities you can identify ?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago
Reply to  Julie Blinde

I have never been on Twitter, Tick-Tock, or the rest – I have never owned a cell phone, will not ever as they are Horrible Things – if you watch how they change people and society.

But you ask if Unherd is different. I think No. I took a wile off from posting as several posters here say I post too much and too often – and that made me realize that is true, I am to Unherd as the writer is to Tick-Tock…. One gets pulled in as just sitting here and posting away is so absolutely easy – just sit and let the words stream out. I have never played a computer game, but I imagine this is the same thing…..

Anyway – have a good Christmas, soon my family are headed out to a Chinese restaurant for our holiday meal – not something we have done before. I will be going fishing at a local beauty spot wile they watch for an hour, then Chinese meal…

I hope you all have a good day, and Christmas.

Andrea X
Andrea X
9 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Same here. The answer to the question in the title for me is “who knows”.
Thanks goodness I am old, so I can spend my 4 hours of daily internet either here or reading the articles and the comments on the Spectator’s site.

Anyway, if I may suggest to the author, do NOT use your phone in bed. You sleep will benefit from it immensely.

Julie Blinde
Julie Blinde
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Phone might be on vibrate

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
9 months ago
Reply to  Julie Blinde

In what way does your point relate to Andrea’s comment ?

Last edited 9 months ago by Ian Barton
Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Maybe it’s my “wicked” mind but I immediately got a sexual connotation to Julie’s remark thinking that she might be in a mischeivous mood.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
9 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Oops, so did I…

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
9 months ago

Mother mercy, get a life.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
9 months ago

It’s because you’re a child.

Philip L
Philip L
9 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

This is the correct answer.

Kiat Huang
Kiat Huang
9 months ago

The author hit the nail on the head when she says that TikTok asks nothing of you.

Logically it is very similar to those permanent, recumbent vacationers on that cruise spaceship in Wall-E, whereby they do eat, but everything else is done by robot with barely any movement to instruct them. Their bodies are all horribly obese, the implication being that is what happens, when everything is brought to you.

Tik-Tok brings everything to you. A smorgasbord, a non-repetitive feast of video loops. Tinder for your entertainment, matching content to your attention.

But it is not unique. It’s a centuries old tradition to have entertainment brought to your door, your town, be it the travelling circuses, itinerant musicians or newspaper readers. The commonality is that the friction, the barriers are minimal. We humans have always been susceptible to be entertained: services like TikTok “just” cleverly self-customize to suit you as an individual and automatically adapt it to your current, immediate preferences. It’s a dark, long rabbit hole to pitch yourself down….

Last edited 9 months ago by Kiat Huang
Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
9 months ago
Reply to  Kiat Huang

With all this tyrannical, ridiculously-tiny-screen time, there will be not enough good musicians around anymore. So many kids will leave an aptitude for playing a musical instrument behind them as their minds are taken up by this tiny-screen claptrap. Social media shenanigans, never-ending video games: these will continue to gnaw away at the artistic development of the young. Churches might run out of organists: they might have to import budding organists from China (where more pianos are made and sold and played than anywhere else in the world).

Kiat Huang
Kiat Huang
9 months ago

Not just the lost skills, but the lost ability to concentrate on anything hard. TikTok, FB, Twitter et al are virally breeding Attention Deficiency Syndrome amidst the young and impressionable. Still there will always be cream and it will, on the whole, rise to the top. There will be many young people who see the wasting dangers of social media and get into the habit of spending time on profitably constructive activities.

If you are a young person these days, then you are in a very fortunate position. Never before can your attitude and application bring far better outcomes than those with better material advantages and aptitude, whilst they are TikTokking and dreaming their life away….

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
9 months ago

Thank God I’m old’ish.

Eddie Johnson
Eddie Johnson
9 months ago

I can only assume that, like virtually every other on-line publication, UnHerd is desperate to attract younger people to these pages.
Otherwise why even print such vacuous bilge?

ralph bell
ralph bell
9 months ago
Reply to  Eddie Johnson

Because its relevant to vast numbers of the public who use it. Unherd is right to have articles that affect society whether you think they are for good or ill. The articles also helps people gain insight into something that they might even try for themselves.
I think its a insightful article and Tik Tok definitely functions to bring people together virtually and offers an avenue for individuals to express themselves creatively.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago
Reply to  Eddie Johnson

Does Unherd have any young posters? Do young people make serious comments? My feel is most of the posters here are quite elderly.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
8 months ago
Reply to  Eddie Johnson

Perhaps it’s for concerned parents/grandparents who subscribe to Unherd…genius eh!

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
9 months ago

‘It knows you, and that could be used for good, even if there’s also a capacity for malevolence.’ It’s owned by China, and controlled by the CCP. It’s also banned in China. Do you really think that that ‘capacity for malevolence’ is accidental?

Matt B
Matt B
9 months ago

Time to buy an old Nokia phone?

Julie Blinde
Julie Blinde
9 months ago

Rare to see some reality on here .
I don’t see you comments on here very much (this is the first) please give us more.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
9 months ago
Reply to  Julie Blinde

A word to the wise about T Hopp. He has a habit of repaying courtesy with gratuitous nastiness.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
9 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Following…

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago

“Really? If people were truly distrustful of Big Tech they would be doing their best to distance themselves from it’s creations.”

Well, I refuse the Phone, Vax, Mask, Social Media, so I distance my self from a lot of it – BUT I think the opposite to you. If one sees evil one should not merely run away from it – but fight it.

Nattering is a way of fighting. Good men doing nothing is not a way of fighting.