It all underscores a fundamental TikTok issue that remains unsolved: There hasn’t yet been an evolution in optimal content form. The narrative styles that will work best in this format haven’t been honed yet, at least not by professionals. For an app that claims a lot of attention, it doesn’t demand much brainpower. That leaves TikTok vulnerable to the moments when viewers, to put it simply, snap out of it.
My breaking point has been approaching for months, and TikTok appears to sense my looming reluctance. It’s been trying to lure me in with multipart videos about abandoned pets (dark); footage of synchronized roller-skating teams (cute); durational videos on hoof cleaning and art conservation (fascinating, sure); and, of course, that one absurdist Turkish barber/facialist/masseur (sign me up).
For an app that claims a lot of attention, it doesn’t demand much brainpower.
Every now and again, it lands on something I find thrilling, or baffling, or both, like the young music producer who excels at warp-speed recreations of hip-hop beats made with FL Studio — under 14 seconds for Soulja Boy’s “Crank That (Soulja Boy).”
But even these joys are transient, which made me think maybe I was the problem, my viewing habits and tastes so ingrained that the refined TikTok algorithm avoided bothering me with anything beyond my particular purview.
It’s almost impossible to break out of that cul-de-sac without starting over, so I did. I logged out of my account, and created a new one. Would TikTok be more ambitious, more palatable, more distracting, if it didn’t have to worry about serving up what it sensed I needed?
For a few minutes, it was chill. I saw videos of teens dancing to Russian music and ice fishing in China. There was a monkey watching French fries cook in an air fryer and snow in Dubai (that turned out not to be Dubai). This was the stuff of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Ridiculousness” — my own algorithm had been denying me these goofball pleasures. Then came cooking videos, but only the most banal ones. Dance clips, but barely anything with personality. Content so lifeless and devoid of charm that it may as well have been generated by A.I.
Perhaps all this time, TikTok had been … protecting me?
I tried lingering on videos I might otherwise skip, liking unexpected clips in hopes I’d trigger a different set of recommendations. And with each attempt to counterprogram against my own instincts, I became more frustrated and dissatisfied. There was no way around it — I missed my characters. I didn’t make it a full day before logging back in to my own account. Was it boring? It was. But it was a low-hum kind of boredom, not offensive enough to eliminate, and still sprinkled with bits of hope for a thrill just a swipe away.