Hey TikTok, you're making millennials feel old!
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
I’m not old. Or at least I’ve never felt old.
I can explain what a Kardashian is. I have an arsenal of response gifs for any scenario. And I consider myself to be on a first-name basis with multiple YouTubers, despite having never met any of them.
All this is to say that up until recently, I’ve always been the young guy in the room—the guy who knows what’s going on online.
But then TikTok came along and made me feel old. Rude.
TikTok is the fastest-growing social media app of the year according to Buzzfeed News and it’s aimed at Gen Z (is that really what we’re calling them?).
It exists just outside my understanding of the cultural zeitgeist. Which is weird for me.
So I’m asking the question: What the hell is TikTok, and what do I—a so-called ‘old millennial’—do with it?
It’s a lip syncing thing, right?
Well. Yes and no.
In North America, TikTok started out as the app called Musical.ly. Some millennials might remember this as a fun app you could use to lip sync along to popular songs.
In the simplest terms, TikTok was a Chinese-owned competitor to Musical.ly and in 2017 the two apps were merged together. Soon after, the app was reporting 500 million monthly active users, and it’s only grown from there.
And yes, when this all began, it was about teens lip syncing on the internet. But as the app has grown in popularity, TikTok has become so much more.
What started as lip syncing to songs lead to lip syncing to other forms of media—comedy, tv, movies—which lead to creators making original content.
Rolling Stone’s Brittany Spain writes, “The app is currently serving as a sort of meme incubator, producing videos and in-jokes that become internet lingua franca in a matter of days, can turn songs into overnight hits, and make celebrities out of pre-teens.”
TikTok is not just a silly little lip syncing app. Its impact is huge.
So, what’s so great about it?
Full disclosure, I downloaded the app for research and it’s become a go-to time waster.
It’s very entertaining. As soon as you start scrolling through videos, the app’s algorithm takes into account the videos you like and spend time watching. Then it continues to feed you similar videos. There’s always more content to scroll through. It can be addictive.
But there’s more here than entertainment value. There’s literally something for everyone on this app. The Verge writes “TikTok is an eclectic world. There are gamers, furries, dancers, comedians, athletes, singers, actors, influencers, and run-of-the-mill kids who are obsessed with memes.” Not only does this mean there’s a wide variety of content but the app’s culture is overwhelmingly inclusive. Anyone with a phone camera can create content and interact with other users.
And speaking of memes, TikTok is just fun. The app thrives on memes and challenges—community-created trends that are recreated over and over again, with each user putting their own twist on the original content. The app even has a built in “duet” feature to facilitate these kind of interactions.
All of this works so well because the app doesn’t take itself seriously, and neither do its users. For some reason likes and follows, while present, aren’t as big of a deal on TikTok as other social media apps. Furthermore, users don’t seem to have the same drive to act cool and aloof, or to curate the perfect feed, like on other apps.
In John Wheeler’s Why TikTok is social media’s new Gen Z darling, he says, “part of TikTok’s appeal is its sheer, clown-car goofiness. TikTok encourages absurdity, and it doesn’t appear to take itself as seriously as other apps that are popular with Gen Z do.”
These kids are just here to have a good time. They aren’t trying to produce the best video content on the internet and very few of them are aspiring influencers—and that’s just really refreshing.
What’s the downside?
As with many social media platforms, TikTok comes with its fair share of issues.
In December of last year Vice's Motherboard published TikTok, the App Super Popular With Kids, Has a Nudes Problem. They found “a vibrant community of users on TikTok who appear to be soliciting explicit images of boys and girls.”
Motherboard followed this piece up with TikTok Has a Nazi Problem, calling out TikTok for “doing a particularly bad job at moderating white supremicists on its platform.”
For TikTok’s part, they have said they would attempt to combat these issues by hiring more content moderators—up to 10,000 from 6,000 in December 2018—and by introducing a more restricted version of the app for children under thirteen—they can view videos but can’t upload their own.
Many users and parents have found that these measures are not enough and last month Buzzfeed News published an article detailing how some young women on the app are banding together to expose predators and harassers themselves.
The app certainly has a responsibility to do what it can to mitigate these issues, but listen, this isn’t anything we haven’t had to deal with before. Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have all faced issues of perverts and bigots and what to do with them. Most of those platforms are still struggling.
So while the negatives of TikTok are something to be wary of (and to protect children from), they also come with the territory. The unfortunate reality of the world we live in is that some people suck and want to ruin everything for the rest of us.
If that’s your reason to stay off TikTok then maybe you should forgo social media altogether—good luck with that!
It’s not about millennials. And that’s ok.
After all this research and some time experiencing the app first-hand, it seems very apparent that TikTok is not for millennials.
I’m sure some millennials have found a place here, but for the most part TikTok is Gen Z’s beast. And that seems strange because we millennials are so used to everything being tailor-made for us.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an admission that we are in fact as entitled as older generations seem to think we are. It’s the same realization that they must have come to at some point: culture is starting to move on without us.
As we get older, the focus has started to shift to our younger counterparts. TikTok is the evidence of that.
And the last thing we want is to become the next generation that is constantly bitching and moaning about those who came after us.
Fortunately, just because it’s not for us, doesn’t mean we can’t get anything out of it.
TikTok is an amazing example of a generation just having fun with social media. When things like Facebook and Instagram have become more and more of a chore—wading through endless streams of wannabe influencers and worse, spending hours trying to come up with perfect posts for our feeds—TikTok is simply refreshing.
Plus let’s face it, we’ve finally reached an age where we’re going to spend the rest of our lives consuming entertainment made mostly by and for people who are younger than us. It’s time to embrace that and get used to it.
My advice is to download TikTok, have a few laughs and don’t think too hard about what it all means.
In summary: Mortality is a bitch. But we’re not dead yet.
ps. If you want to experience some of what TikTok has to offer, check out some compilations on YouTube: