TikTok: Personalized Procrastination


Jonathan Tenenbaum, Staff Writer

You open your phone and your fingers instinctively move in a fluid act of muscle memory: two swipes right from the first page, third column, second app from the bottom. You tap it, silently acknowledging the time vortex to which you’re willingly submitting yourself—a seemingly endless body of content, every video and snippet endlessly entertaining. It avoids the superfluity of a catchy intro tune or animated logo appearance. It throws you straight into the action, into a pool of content perfectly tailored to your interests or sense of humor. A flawlessly designed time trap for endless scrolling. Whether you’re on the app for entertainment or to seek your five minutes of internet stardom, you’re on the app.

If you’re a high school student nearly anywhere in the country, chances are, you’re aware of TikTok. The app has been downloaded a whopping 80 million times in the United States and 800 million times worldwide. If you somehow haven’t heard of the app, perhaps you’re a teacher, parent, or a teen living under a social media rock, there are three pages on the app which you can toggle between by swiping left or right, The first is your ‘Following’ page, where, if you created an account, you can watch videos made by your friends or favorite creators which you have chosen to follow. The page two swipes to the right is the ‘Explore’ page, where you can browse popular videos, creators, hashtags, and search for users, videos, and sounds to lip-sync to or use in your video. Finally, the third page is where the action is. This page, fittingly titled ‘For You,’ is where the action happens, where stars are born. When you post a video publicly, it appears on a small number of users’ ‘For You’ pages, for every comment or like this body of people exposed to your video grows. This direct feedback and instant ability for videos to spread, fueled by the millions of users, has allowed for videos and trends to explode in popularity, as well as for teenagers with no prior acting or internet personality experience to become famous. You post something funny, interesting, or on-trend and, just like that, you have access to millions of potential viewers.

“Honestly I don’t know why its so popular…I thought it was stupid at first and was doing it as a complete joke, and then somehow I gained a good amount of followers. I like how there are so many people on the app so you can see so many different things,” said Kenny Uchida (’22), an example of the app’s far-reaching potential, his account amassing 177.8K followers and 2.7M likes.

“I think the current generation needs a distraction from the realities of this world. TikTok is just a great distraction,” said amateur philosopher Anya Kasubhai (’20).

“I think it’s popular because they hook you in with their videos and you just get addicted,” said Jonathon Glatzer (’21), who spent four hours and five minutes on the app… today alone.

So, yes, TikTok has its attractions. Its format allows for the supply of an infinite pool of content custom-fit to your taste and interests. Sometimes, it’s so accurate it’s genuinely startling. Personally, I’ve seen TikToks poking fun at subjects as specific as my taste in music or even fondness for socks come up on my For You Page or get sent to me by friends. It’s this personalization that makes the app simultaneously so entertaining and frightening, especially considering the recent safety concerns brought up on both sides of the political landscape as to the app’s Chinese ownership.

Just two months ago, Senators Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, and Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, requested that the Director of National Intelligence conduct an assessment of the “national security risks” posed by the app, as well as other Chinese-owned content platforms in the U.S., and then present his findings to Congress. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based tech company, and the lawmakers expressed concern that China’s Internet laws force companies in the country, like ByteDance, to cooperate with its Chinese Communist Party.

So, here’s my advice:  while scrolling endlessly through TikTok is tempting, keep an eye on how much time you’re spending and how much personal information you’re sharing when you like and share videos, tuning the algorithm into your interests.