New forms of media and communication have generated mistrust and hostility since Plato denounced writing as something corrosive to memory. When the telegraph arrived in 1858, the New York Times denounced him as “superficial, sudden, unfiltered, too fast for the truth”, and others said it was a new way “to cheat, steal, lie and deceive”, as historian Tom Standage said so. The the phone brought him the same opprobrium for violation of class and family order. He allowed anyone to enter your house. It turned social minds into shut-ins. This has reduced parents’ power of control over their children. In 1894, an editor of a Philadelphia newspaper warned readers that the disease can be spread through a telephone line. Similar alarmism accompanied the arrival of radio and television, which would have polluted morals and vegetated viewers. More of the same has been directed towards computer games, the internet and smartphones, and will be used against virtual reality if widely adopted. In the 1890s, some critics even diagnosed societal dangers in electrification.
The lowest criticism of TikTok’s algorithm-powered river of short videos is that it’s a worthless waste of time, a sordid place where teenagers can mindlessly slide through a game of endless videos. until their fingers blister. But is it only bad? Wasting time on a silly diversion commands a solid pedigree. It’s called free time. Aren’t millions of adults, stay-at-home spouses and retirees, binge-watching soap operas or cable news all afternoon without having to eat a chagrinburger on it? How many Americans get their fill of football all weekend, then come back Monday and Thursday nights to get their fill?
Yes, the average teenager today spends maybe an hour and a half on TikTok a day, but didn’t previous generations spend the same amount of time watching stupid TV? Didn’t kids in the 60s dial their transistor radio tuners from station to station in search of the perfect beat the same way TikTok users today browse the app at looking for stimulation? Weren’t there ’90s scares about “internet addiction”? Previous generations wasted hours every day talking to their friends on the phone. Others played Dungeons and Dragons or Pokémon, read loads of comics, played endless computer games, or hung out in the game room.
Each generation found kicks in forms of media that required little effort on their part but frightened their parents. Conceding again that devoting an evening to TikTok isn’t as socially redemptive as volunteering at the soup kitchen or studying for an algebra final, we can’t allow the psychobabblists to tell us that TikTok pollutes the minds of a generation without filing a counter-complaint. There is a lot of good to say about TikTok!
TikTok’s highest value might be the way it gives young people a zone of separation from the adult internet (Twitter, Facebook). (Yes, adults use TikTok too, but most concerns about the app are about what it does to kids.) Beaten by helicopter parents, youngsters need a media space they can call their. For many users, TikTok provides a sense of community, a common baseline. Like the long phone calls of yore, as well as chat rooms and smartphone DMs, TikTok provides a media space in which teens can continue uninterrupted by an adult. It’s a place to go to discover new music, follow fashions, explore hairstyles and keep up with trends. In other words, a source book on how to be a teenager.
No one would ever call TikTok news coverage complete, but you can find timely and witty coverage of current events on the Washington Post Account, the bbcand various commentary outposts. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, TikTok allows users to express one’s personality and creativity in videosand some young creators are even earn megabucks for their efforts. Can their videos be banal and silly? Sure. But more banal than a round of golf or more useless than gardening? Especially for LGBTQ kids, minorities or subcultures, it serves as a place to meet other people of your gender and not feel so alone. TikTok must be a lifeline for a gay kid who lives in the sticks. In this case, at least, we should be grateful for the power of the algorithm.
Sure, TikTok can be anxiety-provokinga compliance and intimidation tool, and a place to encourage teenagers to attempt dangerous “challenges”. But drivers of anxiety, conformity, bullying and risk-taking abound in society. In this regard, TikTok Perils is more like normal life than an outlier.
Sometimes the best way to judge a person or an institution is to ask who opposes it. In the case of TikTok, always remember that President Donald Trump has sought to ban it and the The Russian government recently fined him for refusing to remove content that violated laws against posting “LGBT propaganda.” With enemies like that, how bad can TikTok be?