April 2021 Volume 4, Issue 6
So I recently downloaded the TikTok app, primarily because my youngest daughter has more than 130,000 followers on the site. She’s been creating videos for a few years now and is still in high school. Was creating all these videos and seeking clues in other TikToks for qualities that appeal to random viewers a good use of her time? I decided to take a look.
I should note that my use of social media has always been fairly limited. Logging on to Facebook more than ten years ago was kind of exciting, I’ll admit. All these people I went to high school with were sharing lots of personal info. Pretty cool, right? But I also found after spending enough time there that scrolling through these posts could leave me feeling less satisfied than reading a good book would. Too many virtual buddies seemed to be trying to pull my attention in this direction or that, like I was at a big party and everyone was seeking my attention. This sometimes made me feel manipulated, which could be exhausting in this rapid-pace format.
I read Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto around the time I got a Facebook account. Lanier argued then that despite many leaders in Silicon Valley suggesting the Internet would help improve democracy, individual perspectives would likely become compromised by forms of mob mentality that, under certain circumstances, opposed reason. This observation concerned me then, and still does.
Even so, I have occasionally found myself watching TikToks for hour-long stretches at the end of the day. Some of these clips have made me laugh harder than I imagined I was capable of after this past year. Sometimes they are simply absurd, maybe even recorded and uploaded accidentally. Other times the content is really clever. I’m convinced that one creator I follow who sings silly songs she composes and acts them out should star on Saturday Night Live.
Not all clips are funny. Some creators express their anger loudly. Each rant seems directed at a certain audience, one I do not wish to be a member of, so I usually swipe the screen quickly when I see them. Other times creators speak calmly about injustices they have experienced firsthand, including forms of abuse. And sometimes creators share how uncertain they are about the future, that they are incredibly lonely. Seeing these raw clips of vulnerable people seeking human connection can be overwhelming.
I have certainly had concerns about the amount of time my daughters have spent on social media these past few years. Was this wasted time? Shouldn’t they have been reading books I once had or outside throwing stuff like when I was young?
But they seem well adjusted. Each earns good grades. Each still reads books. They have witnessed injustice and chosen to fight for the oppressed. They are good listeners who feel empathy. My oldest daughter is pursuing a degree in neuroscience. She does not have the TikTok app on her phone, but she and her boyfriend watch some of the app’s highlights together on his. My youngest is active in theater and, of course, on TikTok. She plans to continue writing, acting, directing, and editing while in college. I’m not sure I understand all of the clips she posts or why so many others view them, but each one she shares kind of helps me better see who she is becoming, and she seems to know where she is going.