If you have TikTok downloaded on your phone, you are probably familiar with the addictiveness of the algorithm and the bursts of dopamine you get from the relentless scrolling. So, what is it that makes TikTok so addictive?
At first, TikTok can seem disorienting, plunging you headfirst into content, barely evaluating your interests beforehand. What is its main incentive? Engagement, of course. But how exactly does TikTok do this? Simply… it just shows you things. It shoves content in your face and leave the rest up to the algorithm. Users don’t have to follow people at first – TikTok controls the content they consume.
On most social networks, the way influencers create a large audience is through either taking the time to build one by interacting with them; having lots of friends; simply being incredibly beautiful and talented and willing to display that, or occasionally, just getting lucky. This can be tiring and time-consuming. TikTok, on the other hand, lets you hop from audience to audience, trend to trend with ease. The stimulation is constant. The content pool is overflowing. Imagine opening Twitter or Instagram and being flooded with content, before you’ve made the effort to follow anyone.
What’s absolutely vital about TikTok is that it has crossed the line of your typical self-directed feed to one where you lose control as the consumer. When you open the app, the ‘For You’ page pops up, not the videos of people you follow. And this algorithm never runs out of things to show you. Over time, the algorithm constructs a solid model of your interests. TikTok is pretty bold, making assumptions the moment you open the app.
TikTok does not wait. Instead, it just shows you things and makes you run with it. It is the ultimate formula for success – the app is designed to take up as much time as possible, maximising engagement. At this point, Instagram and Twitter can only do so much. Twitter was popularised as a way to follow people and be followed back. Instagram is similar in that sense. However, both apps have had to evolve to rely more on algorithmic recommendation, designed to increase interaction, like TikTok.
One might understandably worry that this shift leaves us at the mercy of the remorseless attention economy. We are spending more time on these apps, even as we complain about the time we lose.