Mon. May 16th, 2022

Photo credits: May Gauthier via Unsplash

It’s 8 p.m. and you’re finally done with classes and all the work for the day. You go on your phone: the choices are Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and TikTok. You click on TikTok, thinking it’ll be a 20 minute venture. Randomly, the clock strikes 11 p.m. WTF? You completely wasted three hours scrolling through makeup tutorials, parody videos and #cleantok. Many social media users wonder how time passes so fast and so suddenly when on this app. TikTok lowers attention spans and ultimately has users miss out on real life opportunities.

Science, design and the habits of the human brain deliver all of the answers to why TikTok is so addicting. According to Forbes and Dr. Julie Albright, TikTok is similar to a slot machine in Vegas. 

“‘In psychological terms [it’s] called random reinforcement,’ Albright says. ‘It means sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And that’s how these platforms are designed. They’re exactly like a slot machine. Well, the one thing we know is slot machines are addictive. We know there’s a gambling addiction, right? But we don’t often talk about how our devices and these platforms and these apps do have these same addictive qualities baked into them.’” 

No matter if we like the video or not, we still keep going to find the jackpot. It’s a thrill and a quick rush of happiness with no tangible or meaningful reward. Slot machines are a great example because of their bright design, quick use, and almost instant gratification. TikTok even uses the motion of “pulling” to refresh — almost exactly like the motion used to play a slot machine. 

Vox says that phones in general are not predictable and this is why they are so addicting. Among this is the bright colors used in TikTok, like their logo. The notification for this app and many others is red, a color the eye is naturally drawn to. It gives the illusion of a notification being important and worth the user’s time. You don’t know who will comment, like or share your posts, and people love to constantly check for some online interaction. It all comes down to the thrill of unexpected attention. TikTok also doesn’t have pages where you have to consciously press to continue scrolling. It is a constant stream of videos making it seem infinite and limitless.

But social media is a way to connect! The previous statement may be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that we have used it to the point of no return. As a society, we are so far gone down the rabbit hole of video-watching that fixing our habits now is crucial. We only connect online and not in person, like we have done for the previous hundreds or even millions of years. Connecting online exclusively can really result in social problems outside of the screen and this impacts our students and young people as a whole.

In order to have a true social media and life balance, we have to take a step away from the phone screen. There are screen timers on your phone and apps you can use to tell yourself that your screen time is up. Even if it means going to another screen, like your TV. I have heard so many parents and people in general say that they see the benefit in watching television rather than TikTok videos. It requires you to pay attention for longer than 15 seconds and allows you to critically think.

In the future, I would rather be able to pay attention to a riveting movie rather than three hours worth of cat videos and #epicfails.

Sophia Howard is a 4th-year Media and Culture Major.


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