The Encyclopedia of TikTok

Words by: Sarah Arturi
Art by: Anita Thuon 

Dear TikTok, 

You went from being an app that I figured was going to be another millennial phase like Musical.ly or Dubsmash — one where in two years time we look back on the videos and ask ourselves: ‘just why?’ Instead, the day eventually arrived when my sister came into my bedroom and popped the big question: ‘do you want to make a TikTok with me?’ That’s when I realised you had finally cracked her.

What’s worse? It was only a matter of time before you’d get to me too. With lockdown boredom in full force thanks to having nowhere to go and nobody to visit, I took a leap of faith and decided to see what all the hype was about. 

Turns out you were the best mistake of my whole *pandemic* life. 

I quickly became hooked on you, TikTok, to the point where I almost mixed up the rising case numbers with the growing number of hours I spent on the app — courtesy of Apple’s screen time feature. 

Perhaps it was your insanely accurate algorithm that proved to defy the concept of time and sleep whenever I found myself mindlessly scrolling. 

Or the 15 second motivational videos that inspired me to drop everything and move to Rome. 

Maybe it was the numerous ‘Renegade Dance’ challenges that were consumed to the extent of subconsciously memorising the choreography in my head. 

Not to mention the endless OOTDs, relationship advice, soap brow tutorials, and 17-part storytimes that also kept me hooked. 

And who knew a sexy Willy Wonka, Carol Baskin allegedly killing her husband (she whacked him, can’t convince me that it didn’t happen), the newfound satisfaction derived from frozen honey, or Bella Poarch’s M to the B could be so…captivating? 

I even found myself caught up in a deep love triangle between the different sides of you. I would ask myself; ‘what am I into today?’, contemplating whether Spiritual TikTok tickled my fancy or if paranormal videos would become my newest obsession. 

It felt as though the ‘For You’ page you curated for me knew my entertainment preferences better than I did myself. 

With all these highlights in mind, I eventually arrived at the true reason why you became such a big part of my life, TikTok. Ultimately, it came down to your ability to fill the social void I —  and all human beings with emotions —  faced in the year of 2020. While the global pandemic introduced us to social distancing, you were there to keep us connected. We watched videos of others going through the same isolation blues that made us feel like we weren’t alone. Time started moving more quickly as new trends and DIY’s gave us something to do. It became a safehouse, a community and a way to keep on track with the world’s haps and mishaps. You became a platform for minority voices to be heard in combating racial inequality, worldwide disasters, passionate protests and so much more.  

It was — and still is — crazy to me how a 15-60 second video could dictate my emotions in a split second. Laughter, sadness, compassion, confusion, satisfaction —  a rollercoaster, to say the least. Hence, when a breath of normality entered my life as lockdown eventually eased, I was surprised to find that I no longer perceived this kind of content as an escape, but rather a distraction. The warmth of engaging in face-to-face interactions made the long, thoughtless scrolls seem freezing cold compared to precious time spent with loved ones. 

So, as I started to push you away, TikTok, I drew closer to my own heart. I realised that feeding my brain with personal interactions allowed me to unlock an intimate understanding of my deeper, more raw emotions. I began living for myself, and not for an app. I started listening — to my body and to those around me —  and kept you as the background noise I could tune into rather than be constantly inundated by. I started striving for the things I wanted to achieve in my current life, rather than keeping the ideas and inspiration stacked away in a ‘liked videos’ folder. It wasn’t about eradicating the app from my life entirely; it was about finding a balance between my real-world experiences and my virtual ones. A mindset I’m still working on today. 

What’s more is that with all this spare time spent confined to my home during lockdown lies the silver lining in this glorified rant. Because the longer I’m away from ‘normal’ life, the more grateful I am for having it when a post-pandemic world commences. 

So let me raise a toast to the app I love most in the whole world: one of the best and worst (did I mention best) social media platforms to exist.

Much love, 

A former TikTok Junkie. 

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