Every night, I fall into a deep slumber after some seemingly endless scrolling through bite–sized videos. Mariah Carey’s “Obsessed” runs on a hamster wheel in my mind after my phone screen shows a loop of videos of random people dancing to it. At this point I can recite some very important rules: “Rule number one if it’s about me, @ me so I can see it. Rule number two if you heard shit that ain’t come from me then don’t believe it." This is the world of TikTok. Rules, songs, jokes, and pranks—all of which are chaotic, unapologetic, crazy, and captivating.
While most people associate the app with pre–teen and teenage girls, people of all ages partake in the madness that is TikTok, which is often positioned as the follow–up to Vine. And while I can’t say I expected to get knee–deep in the world of TikTok as a nearly–20 year old, here I am. Admittedly, I joined as a joke, desperate to know what all the hype was about and why my little brother was so obsessed with deep–fried audio for all of fall break. Flash forward to now: I'm obsessed with the informality and creativity of the app.
It’s nothing like Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram. For one, it’s way less manicured. Instead of photoshopping for the sake of looking hot, it emphasizes warped faces and bodies for laughs. While there are people that take it so seriously that they emulate the same traits as Instagram influencers, it’s still an informal and fast–paced way to express yourself. Additionally, the creativity exhibited on TikTok is endless. From voice dubs and original pranks to POV skits, people use the app to showcase whatever talent (or lack thereof) they want to. It encompasses all generations, with everyone from toddlers to elders using the app.
However, it’s not just the creativity or fast–paced nature that sets TikTok apart. After all, that’s built into the framework of any app these days. What sets it apart from its peers or predecessors in short–form video, like Vine and even YouTube, is its addictive nature. No one truly knows how it works—and trust me, there are a lot of theories out there—but it still follows a basic framework.
The more you interact with the app, the better it knows you. It can detect how many times you watched a looped video, which sounds are most appealing to you, and which TikTokers you like the most—even if all you do is watch and barely like. It’s constantly refreshing as well, meaning that whenever a user clicks the home button, a new crop of videos pops up on the "For You" page, burying the old queue.
While most people trying to crack the algorithm cite the use of hashtags as the best way to get on a user’s "For You" page, there’s still no real proof as to how it works. There’s also the question of where everyone’s data gets stored and how it’s used, with concerns over the app’s connections to the Chinese government being cited and even investigated.
While TikTok's novelty certainly doesn’t come without controversy, that hasn’t stopped people all around the world from lurking, watching, and uploading. In a world as tumultuous and scary as today's, TikTok is one of the few apps that gives millions of users a platform to escape and connect with others in a way that doesn’t require any soul searching, high–quality equipment, or effort. The simplicity of uploading or liking a video that makes you laugh is sorely missed in today’s ultra–polished social media landscape, and, in that way, TikTok serves as a true respite.