TikTok has been around for 6 years now. In such a short time it has gained the title of the fastest-growing social network ever in the history of the internet. It not only managed to gain millions of users in a matter of months but also has affected the whole industry of video/photo platforms, and killed millions of brain cells. It is difficult to deny, that TikTok is now virtually in every social media, and the short videos from it even acquired their own name, simply “TikToks”. These short-form videos have a span of up to 60 seconds have overtaken the internet. Instagram is TikTok, Facebook is TikTok, and youtube is TikTok, they just call it in different ways like “reels” or “shorts”. Some would argue that it is great when a new, fun, and useful app gains popularity and the technology is adopted by other companies, it is a natural part of any developing competitive space. Though, let’s take a closer look at why TikTok has made such a boom on the internet, the main reason for which, is it being a real addictive drug.
With TikTok possessing more than a billion active users and its technology being copied and pasted into such giant platforms as Facebook and youtube (promoting it to some of the other hundreds of millions of viewers), it makes me ponder on what makes everyone watching it, and what makes all those companies strive to have the same brainwasher in their software. Though, after a few minutes of active thinking, an answer comes to mind – TikTok is dope.
The essence of its addictiveness (which is truly the highest among all social media platforms), lies in its design. The way the app looks, feels, scrolls, sounds, and the way the buttons are laid out all create a virtual space that lowers the level of our brain’s activity and makes it lose the track of time. It is designed in a way that forces innocent minds to watch hundreds of short videos daily while forgetting what they have seen 30 seconds ago no matter how funny, interesting, or exciting it could seem at the moment. We don’t have to search long for evidence of the effectiveness of such a design, because it has already been given: corporations like Facebook and youtube which used to be the largest social media trendsetters have suddenly adopted the pattern of TikTok app to their own playing fields. Though, the question still stays: why is this design so addictive?
In order to answer that, we first have to figure out how addiction works. As stated in the Harvard Health Article: “Addiction involves craving for something intensely, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences. Addiction changes the brain, first by subverting the way it registers pleasure and then by corrupting other normal drives such as learning and motivation.” (Harvard Health Article, Understanding addiction). In other words, addiction makes us lose control over our own actions due to a strong craving to experience this addictive something. Although, for the majority of people when thinking of addiction, some of the first things that come to mind are such substances as cigarettes, alcohol, pills, or marijuana. By way of explanations, those are drugs. However, it is important to notice that those drugs that are used for medical purposes are also called medicaments. At the same time, if we consider the word drug more as a general concept of it being something that causes addiction, then it should not be only restricted to physical substances. Moreover, the addiction mechanism works in the same way for all drugs, be it nicotine, sugar, sex, or TikTok videos. In particular, whenever the brain is exposed to certain external stimuli, which causes it to release a set of hormones that are making it feel good, and starts to crave for that good hormone rush, such as dopamine. Then a pattern emerges, “cue routine reward” (Duhigg, 2016). Whatever can become a cue, say being bored, feeling upset, wanting a distraction, etc. When a cue is touched upon, it then triggers the craving for the reward. The reward is known by the brain, in this case, it is the pleasant hormone rush. Hence, our mind urges a subconscious uncontrolled behavior that, it also knows, will bring the reward it craves for. This is how addiction emerges. Translating it to TikTok, whenever we find ourselves bored we know that we can entertain ourselves in TikTok by watching short funny videos. Whenever we scroll for the next video in the first few seconds we are getting excited by its looks, sound, or contents. This then makes our brain release a little bit of dopamine which makes us feel slightly better. Have you noticed that if the video does not excite you in the first 3 seconds you are very likely to quickly scroll to the next one? This is a clear evidence of you scrolling subconsciously, not even realizing that you are already addicted. Your brain wants more dopamine, hence it traps itself in a loop: scroll, get excited, feel good, crave the good feeling again, scroll, and so forth…
One would say that even if TikTok is addictive, it does not cause any severe consequences to neither individual, nor society. Nevertheless, studies have been conducted which state that the addiction to TikTok, just as for any other addictive essence, does affect our brain activity, especially it lowers the activity of particular part of our brain. This, in turn, might lead to the brain’s certain structures’ gradual atrophy. Especially susceptible to this are people of the age under 25 because the brain is not fully developed up till that time. Ironically, those are the ones that tend to spend the most time on the internet and TikTok due to the lack of interest in the real-world and boring classes in schools and universities.
Just like with addictive substances, addiction to TikTok is very difficult to notice, as it happens very gradually and smoothly. You don’t feel like something is going wrong, unless you check out the time of the day before you clicked on TikTok and right after you finished your daily session, here you get surprised by how much time has flown by. The danger is high, as it is hard to detect the full amount of hours we lose to TikTok, though it accumulates over time. Just the mere thought of us spending an hour daily on watching vids we don’t even remember at the end of the day, makes me think of how much I could have achieved if spent it on reading self-improvement literature or learning a new skill. Lets try to leave a worthy legacy behind and not be left known as the “look at me generation”. 😉
Feel free to share your experiences with tiktok and thoughts on this in the comments down below 🙂
I will be very glad to hear from you!
Duhigg, C. (2016). Power of habit. Penguin Random House Audio Publish.
Understanding addiction. HelpGuide.org. (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2022, from https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain.htm