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Breaking up with TikTok

The notion of deleting the short video streaming app TikTok gets thrown around as a point of pride in conversation by some celebrities and common folk like myself.

When I felt that the app was rotting my brain from the inside out, I decided, for the umpteenth time, to erase it from my life.

In one day since banishing the addictive app, my overall cellphone “screen time” dropped by four hours.

According to an article in The Independent newspaper, people who use the app for more than 90 minutes could narrow their collective attention span over time.

Further research published in Nature Communications found that shorter attention cycles were mainly driven by increasing information flows, represented as content production and consumption rates.

“The ever-present competition for recency and the abundance of information leads to the squeezing of more topics in the same time intervals as the result of limitations of the available collective attention,” it said.

Some design aspects of TikTok, and many other social media platforms, are made to lock you in.

Ironically, I have seen videos on TikTok explaining to users just how addictive the app is. In contrast, other users create videos aimed at reminding millions of people to take a break and reconnect with the world outside of the app.

Despite the information being thrown at me and millions of others, I decided to “doom scroll” on until it became too frustrating.

I didn’t want to be on the app, but I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with myself when I had already done all my household chores, cooked, gone for a run, meditated, and spent time with my flatmates. TikTok was filling all the empty time.

For me, the final straw was an onslaught of “mental health” videos from non-professionals unpicking the lives and responses of the general public.

Although the Chinese social media app is not dominant for all age groups, the aggressive way it grabs your time can be viewed as competition for your attention, what some scholars and pseudo-intellectuals with humanities degrees [like myself] call the attention economy.

The term “attention economy” was coined by psychologist, economist, and Nobel laureate Herbert A Simon, who asserted that attention was the “bottleneck of human thought” that limits what we can perceive in stimulating environments and what we can do.

Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings claimed in 2017 that the platform’s biggest competitor was sleep.

“We’re competing with sleep, on the margin. And so, it’s a very large pool of time.”

As Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message”, which is often interpreted to mean that the systems used to communicate information have a significant impact on the messages they deliver.

What message does TikTok deliver? That’s up for debate.

Social media has changed the way that all users, and therefore most people, interact with one another – and it will take some time to understand what this has done.

For now, it seems only appropriate to fight your dwindling attention span with as much gusto as William Wallace.

“They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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