Before the internet age, young people in NYC had to rely on friends and coworkers to learn where the hottest nightlife spots were. If you wanted to know where to go and hang out, you had to explore the city. Now you can spend less than 15 minutes on your phone and find out which brunch spots serve unlimited mimosas, which dessert bar has the best food, and which nightclub has the strongest drinks and largest dance floor. Basically, you can find all the best of NYC on TikTok now. This is neither entirely good nor entirely bad. Visual apps like Instagram and TikTok give users the chance to tell all of their followers about something cool they did, leading to more business in spots where large volumes of customers are needed. More customers mean more money, and who wouldn’t want that? On the other hand, part of what made New York so magical was leaving for work at 9 am and ending up at a secret rave until you had to leave for work again the next day. Now there are no secrets. Here’s a breakdown of how TikTok changed NYC and what that means for the cities future.
TikTok Takes Advantage of FOMO
Every young person knows the horrendous feeling that comes from thinking you’ve missed out on something. When I was in high school, it was my worst nightmare to see friends at a sleepover that I wasn’t invited to. Facebook used to mock me, saying, “here’s this cool thing that happened, and you must be a loser because you weren’t there.” TikTok users say, “look at this cool thing that’s happening, let’s go.” We can discover and share things happening all over New York City in seconds, making us feel like we’re never missing out on something. Even if we decide not to go to that speakeasy or the impromptu dance party in McCarren Park, at least we knew about it, and that’s better than finding out about something after it already happened.
This desire to be in the know, to feel like you’re part of the cool crowd, feels especially important in a city as big as New York. A lot of people move here with no family connections or friendships. Everyone wants to feel like they belong, and TikTok makes people feel like we’re all on the same playing field. We can feel connected to the city and everyone else who lives within it, powerful.
The app shows the best of the best. There’s a sense that if it makes it to TikTok, it’s worthy of a visit. This brings traffic to previously unknown places. There are videos showing bars hidden in laundromats, barbershops, and even one above a Five Guys. These are places you normally have to be in the right place at the right time to experience. But TikTok changes all of that. We can find out about these places without even leaving our homes, which takes the fun out of the hunt.
Fantasy Land, or Real Life?
It’s great that some businesses can explode because of the app. In NYC, income is everything, so the more business a place gets, the longer it can stay alive. This is good for the economy and good for us. However, constantly swiping through content changes the way we interact with a city. We used to have to walk the city to know it. Now, millennials and Gen Z kids hop in an Uber and arrive at a destination they saw on their phone. Visuals engage us in a way that they haven’t before. There’s constant stimulation in NYC. You never know what you’re going to see when you step outside. TikTok prepares us for the unexpected and makes us excited by it instead of exhausted. It also allows us to take what we want and leave the rest. The content we choose to follow is specific to our interests. The version of NYC one sees on TikTok is perfectly curated to fit the city’s version that we want to see, which isn’t always the real one. This puts us in a position of control, which we don’t often get in big cities. From the train not coming on time to job insecurity due to intense competition, insane rent prices, and high cost of living, sometimes it feels like the city controls our every action. That changes with TikTok. We can design our own life, and that sense of agency is empowering.
The benefits of using TikTok to figure out the way a city works are clear. We can find out all of the cool places to see and be seen and interact with the city in a way that is foreign to previous generations. These are all positive things. Cities have to change to keep up with the times, and it’s reassuring to see New York is alive and well, especially given the struggles of the past year. The conflict comes when huge amounts of people start frequenting the same places just because they saw it online, and then people don’t get to discover the parties, parks, restaurants, and bars that aren’t as visually appealing. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you to decide.