The internet and social media has fueled Generation Z; I would know since I’m a “Zoomer” myself. My generation is beginning to enter adulthood, so now we’re seeing how this may affect us long term. Unfortunately, I’m noticing a negative effect on my attention span, and one social media platform stands out as an issue: TikTok.
Rebranding from Musical.ly in 2016, TikTok is a video-sharing platform that allows any user to upload videos that range from 15 seconds to three minutes long. It’s quickly become one of the most popular social media apps globally, partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic leaving people at home with nothing to do except consume endless amounts of media.
For a long time, I didn’t have TikTok because I wasn’t sure what it offered that other social media platforms didn’t. Eventually, my friends texted me enough TikTok videos that I caved and made an account on the app.
When I began scrolling, the videos were nothing exciting. There was dancing, cooking and storytelling all within a few swipes. The genre whiplash was jarring at first, and the videos weren’t geared toward my interests. This all changed within a week.
TikTok’s algorithm began to find topics I was interested in. I saw an influx of Taylor Swift content, people with my sense of humor and even theories regarding television shows I enjoyed. Casual scrolling for a few minutes every once in a while turned into an hour a day. Nowadays, I can scroll for hours at a time without realizing.
TikTok videos get straight to the point, unlike longer videos on sites like YouTube. TikTok also presents its videos in a feed, so you don’t have to do any of the decision making needed to find something to watch. On Netflix or YouTube, I might have decision paralysis and decide not to watch anything, but on TikTok, I can keep scrolling until something interesting appears. The combination of conciseness and a lack of decision-making has led to bad habits for my attention span.
Essentially, it feels like TikTok is training my brain to expect information quickly. A study from the Technical University of Denmark found that an abundance of information has led to collective attention spans getting smaller. I’ve found this to be true; the YouTube videos I used to watch are now too long to pay attention to. I even find myself getting distracted at work and in class during long lectures.
So, how can we fix this? I’ve been seeking the answer to that question over the past several months.
I’ve deleted the app from my phone, and I’m always more productive during that time spent away from TikTok. However, social media is addictive, so this doesn’t usually work long term. Monitoring and limiting the hours I spend on TikTok has been more beneficial to me.
In the end, though, reading has helped me regain my attention span. Reading involves a focused thought process, and the benefits don’t come right away. This forces the brain to put in the work and wait for a reward.
Neither of these are perfect solutions, but they’ve been a step in the right direction toward expanding my own attention span. It’s important to be mindful of how apps such as TikTok may be harmful to your brain, so you can be the healthiest possible version of yourself.