February 9, 2020

NGUYEN | The Terrifyingly Tantalizing Trend that’s TikTok

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This is getting out of hand.

I can’t let this consume my life. I’m stronger than this; I can beat this. It needs to end. Now.

I collapsed onto my bed —  my body caving into itself, a heap of feeble limbs and utter desperation. After wallowing in self-pitying contemplation for way too long, I peeled my body off of my bed and willed myself to sit up. So this is actually happening, I thought to myself. I’m actually gonna do it.

I glared down at my phone, letting one last flicker of doubt flash through my mind. Maybe it isn’t all that bad? But deep down, I knew what was right. So, before I could let myself hesitate again, my finger firmly pressed down on the TikTok app, my eyes reluctantly watching the app tremble in fear as I delivered its demise. “Delete TikTok?” my screen asked, urging me to grant it another chance. By then, I had already cemented my decision. Again, I tapped down on my phone — this time with certainty. Delete. The sigh of relief came immediately: It was all finally over. TikTok’s reign in my life was over.

The majority of my past winter break was spent on TikTok, up until the moment when the app took its dying breath on my phone. But even when I wasn’t scrolling through the endless stream of cringe-worthy “Renegade” dances and entertaining life hacks I know I’ll never use, I started to notice TikTok everywhere I looked.

My group chats were constantly inundated by waves of TikToks my friends found funny. Scrolling through Instagram stories and Twitter — two social media platforms competing against TikTok — I found myself consuming the short-form videos outside of the app itself. Offline, when I was with my friends, we would reference TikToks, discuss TikToks, joke about TikToks, remake TikToks. It squirmed and squeezed its way into every corner of my social life.

In the blink of an eye, TikTok somehow dominated the social media industry, firmly planting itself into the culture of today’s youth.

According to Business Insider, “TikTok has hit 1.5 billion total downloads across the App Store and Google Play. It hit 1 billion downloads in February of [2019], and has raked in 614 million downloads [as of November 2019]… TikTok is the only app in the top five [most downloaded platforms] that isn’t owned by Facebook.”

The first time I caught wind of the app, I immediately pushed it to the back of my mind, dismissing it as another failed social media platform, like Wishbone or Houseparty. After all, the last “new” social media app that skyrocketed into the league of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook was Snapchat, which was initially released in 2011. Since then, no other has been able to infiltrate the ranks of these giants … until TikTok, that is.

Overnight, TikTok’s popularity soared. Does anyone actually remember how it surged into ubiquity? It suddenly became a staple for the youth. Oddly, for us college kids, I think we’re at that capping threshold for TikTok’s user base. Almost every middle schooler and high schooler I know is hypnotized by the dances and trends that have filled the app’s “For You” feeds. And while most of my college-aged friends understand TikTok references and crazes, there seems to be a distance, a generational gap, between us and the app. Sure, we’ll download it — but only as a joke. Yeah, sometimes we’ll make our own TikToks — but only to parody the eye-rolling cringiness of younger age groups.

But, nevertheless, she persists. Despite this divide, TikTok still manages to rope us into its addictive videos. Because not only is its content addicting, the app itself is designed to keep us glued to our screens. With most other social media platforms, the majority of content is derived from accounts that you follow. And although you can follow and “friend” a lot of accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, there’s eventually a point where all the “interesting” content runs dry. With TikTok, that isn’t the case.

Its “For You” feature supplies a steady, never-ending pool of TikToks specifically catered for you — from creators hailing from every cranny of TikTok. Not to mention, the app doesn’t display the current time, making it easy to get swept up in the endless feed of videos.

Even more, the viral nature of TikTok has produced an entirely new generation of youths viewing social media as a performative pursuit. Though social media inherently possesses and endorses posturing for others online, this app has taken it even further by promoting actual performance art — dancing, singing, acting, editing and more. It has broadened the definition of what social media is: TikTok isn’t merely a social app to share posts and mindlessly scroll through. For almost every user, it’s become an activity, a hobby, a project, a transactional video dialogue between user and camera.

So, what is it that made the decision to delete TikTok so difficult?  TikTok’s addictive nature and emphasis on performing online explain the stranglehold on today’s youth. It has rewritten the rules for social media platforms, changing the way we interact with and consume social media. But with these changes come a slew of potential pitfalls. The app has produced a legion of wannabe entertainers and influencers, giving the average high school student the illusion of a personal platform capable of launching them to TikTok fame.

So next time you swipe through your phone fiending for your daily TikTok fix, measure the weight of your app consumption. Does it have you sucked into its addictive grasp?

 

Niko Nguyen is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at nnguyen@cornellsun.com. Unfiltered runs every other Monday this semester.