An Ode to TikTok
By Claudia Sofia
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media
Graphics by Armaan Latif
This article is loosely inspired by the traditional form of an ode, a form used to celebrate a particular person or thing but also used to express contradictory feelings toward it.
Strophe - The Turn
TikTok reveals what is already apparent about our times: that absolute shit can and will float to the top and get more recognition than most experimental, daring, inventive art, literature or film ever will. Many artists do and will go unrecognised, do and will go hungry and poor; because those who amuse and entertain most are those who start vapid trends, and those who, with a vapid hunger for clout, tirelessly replicate them until they reach their fateful demise of becoming… well, un-trendy and cringe.
My own fifteen-second claim to fame, the product of a passing thought and whim, garnered over ninety-thousand views to date. Nothing I ever create again is likely to get that much attention. Sure, maybe I can and will just continue to crystallise my tired mind’s residue (wit) into snappy TikToks and turn them into someone else’s serotonin shot for the day. But maybe I want my short stories and articles to get the same attention without needing TikTok’s utilitarian algorithm to give me a kind boost.
The success of the app is probably, for the most part, due to its design and mechanics that are so goddamn efficient at exploiting weaknesses in human (particularly child/teenager) psychology to make us addicted. It keeps us hooked up to the machine for hours on end… infinite scroll ≠ infinite joy… not even noticing the leeching corporate-suction-tubes jammed into our marionette-limbs, extraction ducts draining out our entranced-minds; filling up our days with synthetic, escapist, vicarious joys we can hardly learn to live without now. Generation Z, so “bold and brave”, will we ever unhook ourselves from the pleasure machine(s)?
Antistrophe - The Counter-Turn
Oops, got a bit dark there.
There’s more to it than culty trends and lacklustre dances. TikTok offers an intimate insight into lonely lives; the lives of the forgotten, the elderly, the differently-abled—lives whose paths might otherwise never cross with yours and it allows you to bear witness to those who most need kindness and friendship, even in the fleeting form of a 150-character comment.
The algorithm has brought insanely specific videos to my For You page about experiences, feelings and ways of thinking I thought no one else on earth shared with me. It both comforts and humbles me in that way: I’m not alone and I’m not as unique as I thought. And that’s good: I feel a unity with these absolute strangers that no other app has allowed me to feel— and I was very active on Twitter for the majority of my adolescence.
The best of humanity is captured on there; beautiful tender moments are shared that give me hope. It is true that recording such moments to upload them online (for clout) will likely take away from the moment, but I’m happy I get to share in their small beauty and happiness even if that means they are a little less beautiful and good because of it. Is that not a worthy compromise in an age of widespread, normalised addiction to social media? Trying to find happiness and kinship on TikTok is only as futile and vapid as any attempt to find it anywhere on social media. But it’s the closest I’ve come to the real thing online.
It’s also just, like, really fun.
Epode - The Stand
TikTok has taught me to live better, even if my constant reliance on the app for serotonin/entertainment often gets in the way of putting that into practice.
The Chinese app has been a vessel for a lot of good for me, but where I’ve lost control over it, it has been silently destructive: it has made me lose sleep (mandatory half-an-hour scroll through my FYP before bed); it has made me place too much importance on unique appearance as metric-for-personality (if I don’t dress or look how I feel on the inside, will anyone even know who I am?) and most insidiously, it has created an insatiable need for constant, snappy shots of entertainment that no amount of scrolling can satiate.
We need to revert TikTok, and all social media platforms/apps along with it, to their original humane purpose (?) to serve as tools to meet our needs; our emotional, self-expression and social needs. TikTok –and other apps less effective at stimulating joy– have become PESTS that we have willingly invited into our lives to eat up our precious time on this earth. Gen Z let’s face it, we love the idea of “fighting the man”, so let’s actually do something about these companies’ addiction-and-dependence business models by teaching ourselves to be temperate in our use of TikTok. Let’s take back control of our very selves and preserve our mental health at a time it is most needed.
Go watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix before you next pick up your phone.