Confession: I don’t have the attention span to sit down and watch a full movie anymore. As a former Film Studies student, I found myself tasked with watching 3-4 movies per week last school semester. And, with remote learning still in effect at my University, I was forced to watch these movies at home in my bed (well, not technically “forced,” but it seemed easier to curl up in my own room than to drag myself out to the living room TV set and actually sit up and focus).
I used to be a film fanatic. In years past, I could watch multiple movies back-to-back and never feel distracted or unengaged. However, this past semester I found myself faced with the complete inability to sit through an entire film. Or, at least without pausing it every 10-30 minutes. I’d pause for water breaks. For texting breaks. For staring-at-the-wall-aimlessly breaks. Mostly, I’d pause to track how much time was left in the film before it was over.
TikTok’s Effects on Attention
Honestly, I find myself pretty disappointed in my own attention-span abilities these days. And, it’s not just films that present this issue. Single episodes of TV sometimes feel endless. I can’t finish full-length movies without wanting to pull my own teeth out. And of course, I’ve completely forgotten what it feels like to sit down and read a book for more than three minutes. As a writer and self-prescribed consumer of culture, this new inability to focus is pretty much the biggest inhibitor to my future success.
I recently tried to sit down and trace back to the exact moment where this problem infiltrated my daily life. And, surprise surprise, I’m pretty convinced that the source of my attention deficit lately is that app you’re all probably tired of reading about–TikTok. I mean, think about it: TikTok’s platform runs on brevity. As a user, you’re constantly inundated with an endless stream of content that sucks you into an endless hole of scrolling that never really seems to end. The average length of a video on the platform is 15 seconds. TikTok has just recently allowed some creators to record up to 3 minutes of content. Most videos still clock in at a much shorter span. Logically, when TikTok users can find endless hours of entertainment at under a single minute long, something like a 2-hour film focusing on just one topic? It feels endless.
Stuck in the Scrolling Hole
Evidently, it’s not just me who’s been blaming TikTok for the influx of creative issues they’ve been facing. Lots of articles have discussed this phenomenon of the shortened attention span. One particular piece published by writer Steve Kelman on The Business of Federal Technology argues that “short attention spans, with a concomitant, weakened ability to concentrate, can, in turn, produce a number of negative effects, such as poor performance at work or school, inability to complete daily tasks, missing important details or information, and difficulties communicating in relationships.”
Honestly, as much as I’m tempted to write off this very scientific-sounding commentary as an example of the older generation demonizing something that the youths enjoy, I can’t argue with the facts. I mean, I see this very issue in pretty much every element of my daily life these days, and it’s frustrating as hell. But, even knowing this, I still can’t seem to escape the addicting pull of the TikTok scrolling hole.
From the iPod Touch to TikTok
This isn’t the first time in my life that new technology has infiltrated my creative abilities. When I was a kid, I used to read, on average, 4-5 new books a week. As an only child, novels were pretty much my only form of entertainment–that is until my dad gifted me the new iPod Touch at age 10. To a kid, the allure of scrolling through YouTube, downloading free games off of the app store, and taking random photos on my iPod camera was, understandably, too much to resist. I became addicted to the iPod–and, the iPad my mom bought a few years later, and the computer I got when I entered high school. By the time I was around 14, I couldn’t get through more than a few pages of a book without feeling uncharacteristically bored.
After downloading TikTok, I feel kind of the same way that I did when I first opened that iPod Touch. But this time, it’s worse, because even alternative technology struggles to hold my attention span. Is it fair to blame this entirely on TikTok? Honestly, I kind of think it is. At least, that’s how I see the effects of the Tok manifesting in my daily life. This “TikTok effect” is frustrating at best, but when I really think about how the continual rise of TikTok’s popularity is affecting the average Internet user’s ability to properly focus and create, I get even more annoyed with the whole premise of the app. Maybe it’s time for me to delete TikTok. But….to be honest, despite its downsides, I still find the comfort and comedy of the endless scroll a little too hard to resist, at least for now.
Feature Image from helloimnik_ on Unsplash.com