Back in the winter of 2019, my friend introduced me to a new app that had been gaining popularity: TikTok.
I was skeptical at first. This was the second iteration of music.ly — an app filled with cringey videos of influencers attempting to lip-sync — and, in TikTok’s early days, it mainly consisted of dance videos and Facebook-esque comedy skits. My friend swore to me there were videos I’d enjoy, I just had to give the algorithm time to get to know me.
It did. The app knew my interests — it seemed to know when I was looking to watch long-form videos about the news, or when I was seeking short comedic bits. I was hooked, and up until my senior year, I could be caught scrolling for hours.
I wasn’t alone — there are currently a billion active global users on the app, according to CNBC.
Then, in July of this year, I quit cold turkey. I was starting my job here at The Phoenix, working on the side and beginning classes for my senior year. “If I don’t have TikTok,” I thought, “I’ll just spend those hours doing more work.”
I was right. I haven’t had the app for over three months and I’ve seen an increase in my productivity. I can’t lay in bed for hours mindlessly scrolling — Instagram keeps me entertained for 15 minutes tops and Twitter is only digestible for minutes at a time.
As I sat on my high horse, proud of myself for stepping back from the app that once drained hours of my day I came to a realization — maybe there’s a reason I had that escape in my life.
College students are expected to balance an insane amount of work, and the conversations about burnout (especially among student journalists) have gained more attention. In a Sept. 22 column, The Michigan Daily’s editor-in-chief, Claire Hao, explained her decision to take a week off from the paper in an attempt to curb her ever-present anxiety attempting to balance a 70-hour workweek while being a student.
TikTok, for many of us, is the one app where we can completely shut our minds off. Its algorithm is curated to keep you scrolling. On Instagram, you’re faced with real-life: posts of people you know, doing things you wish you could be doing. On Twitter, you’re expected to follow conversations about your job and for some of us it’s a tool in our work day.
In recent weeks, as work has picked up and classes become more demanding, I’ve found myself longing for such an escape again. I turn to reading news articles to try to put myself to sleep, but that only increases my anxiety and turns my brain back into work mode. I try to binge YouTube videos, but it just doesn’t turn my brain off in the way I want it to.
I don’t think TikTok is the ideal leisure activity. If I had more time, I might learn to knit. If I didn’t read for hours a day at my job, I might find novels more appealing. I do think we should consider why the app has such a grip on people our age, and the correlation to the culture of “always working” we’ve ingrained in college students’ minds. We need to tell young professionals it’s OK to engage in unproductive activities, it’s OK to not always be working.
So, if scrolling TikTok is what lets you turn your brain off for a few hours, don’t feel bad about it. If it’s crocheting or painting or reading, congrats, you’re probably a very well-rounded individual and I’m jealous of you. For now, I’ll continue my journey of finding my perfect leisure activity and who knows, maybe I’ll have to redownload the app — and I won’t feel guilty for turning my brain off sometimes.