The short answer (for those who can’t be bothered to read for longer than 5 seconds): yes. The long answer: it truly depends on you.
Believe it or not, TikTok alone has easily taken over the global population since its launch in 2017. It has become even more prominent during the Covid-19 outbreak, forcing everyone to remain at their own home for almost a complete year. Having nothing better to do during their accumulated free time, that was when TikTok grew enticing for the global population to download and try out the new social media app that unknowingly has cruel consequences if the usage is left unmonitored.
Those who have used it, and those who have encountered the people who are avid users of the new application, can be seen having little to dramatic symptoms of the prolonged usage of TikTok. From temporary side effects (e.g., dizziness, headaches, decreased self-esteem) to concerning problems (e.g., reduced attention span, anxiety, motivation loss, etc.).
As much as obvious the side effects can be, one question remains: is it truly because of TikTok?
The Answer Is; Not Really
It’s not so shocking, honestly. It all depends on whether or not you realise the harm it can do to you.
But the problem starts when the public use it excessively to the point they are unaware the toll it has taken over their mental and physical health. Just take a look at the graph below:
With each year, the usage increases by a considerably big margin. Of course, it benefits the developers. But the main focus is, it is estimated for the users to use them more and more as the year progresses.
“Is TikTok the reason behind the addiction?” “What about Vine?” “Both are basically the same thing if you want to talk about short-form videos reducing your attention span.” Well, yes. While they are similar in some ways, both the time it was launched and the familiarity of the content on the Internet play a massive role in how they affect the users.
TikTok Started the Trend of Chasing Clout
No, Vine was not created for the sake of chasing popularity and trends. It was created for expressing creativity within the span of six seconds. To put it simply, under those six seconds, creators have to be concise and impactful. Everyone has their own niche and creative way of expressing themselves to the point where there are some notable Vine icons being different and standing out.
TikTok, on the other hand…
TikTok primarily focuses on flexible and/or complex narrative videos, depending on the content consumed. But mostly, you will only see average users of TikTok post videos less than a minute for the sake of quick content.
Even if the video posted is just you bobbing your head left and right to trendy music, it’s still considered a content. Even if you add a layer of your video just by watching another TikTok video and (fake) reacting to it, it’s still content.
It results in overwhelming yet similar content. And you keep on consuming the same media over and over again.
Plus, Vine was created during the early era of the Internet. TikTok existed during the times where the advancement of technology is almost, if not already, at its peak. Everyone has already been familiar with the type of content they would be liable to see on the Internet, so the content becomes stale until a new meme comes along. Then everyone would do reaction videos, do a remix of similar content, etc. just to hop in the trend with the hopes of gaining that popularity they crave so dearly.
It’s a slightly delicate matter to talk about, but it is what it is.
How Harmful Can TikTok Be?
TikTok’s addictive potential stems from a combination of factors that exploit human psychology and neuroscience. In other words, the developers of TikTok found ways to make sure you stay in TikTok as long as possible. So unless you notice that you’re being dragged into the TikTok virtual world, you’re staying there for hours on end every single day, with each day causing psychological changes without you noticing.
It started with dopamine releases from your brain upon watching short-form content. It’s sort of a ‘reward’ chemical from your brain upon accomplishing something (in this case, finishing a short video). You’ll be likely to do it more, because it feels good. With the “For You Page” (FYP) present in TikTok, it feeds you with endless content of the similar ones you’ve watched, liked, commented, and shared.
“But that’s basically how every single social media application operates now though.”
That’s what algorithms are nowadays, unfortunately. It keeps the users in for them to anticipate another dopamine release. Not to mention that the sensory overload TikTok videos tend to have (trendy music, dances, effects and text all over the video, etc.) would lead the users to crave for more—because they can never have enough of what is presented in such a short time.
So you’ll want more, more, and more. Ever noticed any changes in you after a prolonged use of this application? You tend to get headaches, eyestrain, and sleep disturbances.
And those are just the mild effects of prolonged use.
As you consume more of the short videos, the overstimulation of dopamine results in multiple mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, purely because of social comparison and prolonged isolation. The Fear of Missing Out (F.O.M.O.) is also a part of this — everyone posts ‘healing’ videos on TikTok hoping to get sympathy and views, and you want to follow their footsteps as well. Turns out that the phrase “fake it ‘till you make it” isn’t a hoax after all.
The infamous mental health problem, ADHD — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — is also a common issue among those who have no control over their use of TikTok. It’s a problem within the uncontrollable use of social media in general, but it’s more prominent for those who consume short-form videos for prolonged periods of time.
The fast-paced nature of the content and the rapid switching between videos can mimic symptoms of ADHD. You tend to see people with this disorder tend to never sit still — they always have something to do. It’s different from people who are busy or occupied; the affected can’t be idle without stimulation, because they are used to long hours of constant stimulation of dopamine from scrolling through endless content on TikTok to the point they expect to replicate the same excitement outside of it.
The world isn’t as fast paced as TikTok, unfortunately.
And of course, you tend to see loss of creativity in the avid users as well. For the sake of hopping into trends and popularity, they tend to flock together as a herd, duplicating and spreading the same meme over and over. One popular video or photo went viral, and suddenly everyone wants to do the same, or do reaction videos of it.
They have even got to the point of just putting trendy music in the background and doing practically nothing in the video and calling it content. Still they get hundreds, if not thousands, of views. The users aren’t exposed to other content different from their interest, leaving little room for independent thought and exploration.
Very few on the platform know how to utilise the application to their advantage. Instead of letting themselves be taken control of the algorithm, they use it to showcase uniqueness in their content. To them, TikTok is a tool, not a replacement for social needs.
So, Should You Get Rid of TikTok?
No. You don’t need to get rid of TikTok to improve your quality of life. Even if you uninstall it, chances are you will re-download the application soon enough anyway, should you have no control over your reliance on it.
All you need to do is to get a hold of yourself. Make sure to always keep track of the time — that’s the most important part. You tend to get lost in the never-ending content on TikTok to the point where you can spend hours on end just scrolling and getting constant dopamine stimulation from the app. Write down a list of things to do throughout the day to make sure you get things done; a lot of people disregard daily chores and tasks because they get caught up on TikTok and forget the things they need to do. And of course, if you think it really helps, just uninstall it completely. You’ll find other beneficial things to do apart from scrolling through short videos—maybe it’s a good time to pick up on the old hobbies you left?
Regardless, it’s not TikTok that causes the issues. It’s the over-reliance of the users on the content they consume over the time they spend on it. All that we can hope for is that we can balance between spending time in the virtual and real world.