Someone asked me recently why I am not on TikTok, and that they’d love to see me provide content there.

First of all: I am on TikTok. I signed up during the pandemic to watch people do the “Blinding lights”-dance challenge and replicate it with my daughter (here it is, in case you don’t remember):

That’s about how deep my relationship with TikTok ever went 😂

I don’t use TikTok to create content

I have removed myself from the (what I perceive as) harmful pressure to constantly create content on social media a while ago, and to be on every platform going. Not only that, but I can also tell you that it didn’t do my studio/practice any harm (actually the opposite), but that’s a topic for another day…

To prevent misunderstandings: If you love social media, if you love providing content on TikTok, that’s okay. Some people genuinely have a desire to do it, and they are good at it. I am just not one of them.

I create content for social media when I want to, not because I feel I have to.

Not because I have to do the next thing that everyone raves about.

Not because I owe anyone free nuggets of wisdom in the hope they’ll convert into paying clients.

Not because I need to train myself to find TikTok “fun”: I find it overstimulating, and it makes me twitchy.

None of this means that I can’t be happy for everyone who enjoys it (within the limits I’ll get to).

From a marketing perspective, we also have to talk about our main client demographic: Using TikTok because it is one of the most rapidly growing platforms will make sense if your target demographic are teenagers (10-19 year olds are the biggest user group). But if your target demographic are established, slightly older professionals, your best bet might still be Facebook, or even LinkedIn. That’s very simplified though, and many other considerations go into this. What I am trying to say is that it made no sense to me to jump on a platform I don’t even like just because it’s “big”.

However, there’s something else about my not doing TikTok specifically, and hardly any Facebook-Lives or Instagram-Reels (the few I do are really slideshow-videos): My growing concern for people’s mental health and attention spans (on top of my general dislike of being in front of a camera on social media).

It’s not news that (excessive) social media use isn’t exactly great for our brains

It activates dopaminergic reward pathways, and we start craving more and more hits. That’s also one of the reasons why social media use is such a big topic when it comes to e.g. ADHD. Some studies suggest that ADHD might be caused by a higher density of dopamine transporters in the brain, which in turn might create dopamine deficiency. This might affect some of the neurodivergent population differently when it comes to social media use, but that leads too far at this point…

Chasing the dopamine hit is what makes social media so addictive, and it’s potentially neurologically damaging. I often worry that our rapidly shortening attention spans are linked to, or exacerbated by, the way we use social media (and the way we consume media in general). We certainly have pretty expansive studies that point that way (I put some links in the footnotes).

Furthermore, the World Psychiatric Association published findings that the effects of too much social media can be likened to age-related cognitive decline.

And all of this is especially true for hard-hitting, quick videos with people pointing at flashing text while dancing. It delivers a fast-paced experience: You’re not thinking, you’re mainly reacting. You are getting good at processing info rapidly, but not at truly taking it in. Aaaand swipe up…

Visual processing is so much quicker than processing the written word—but is it always better?

(Btw, we’re talking 5-figure-times faster, not fractions)

Too much information with floodlight attention means nothing is really getting through – we don’t truly retain it (certain exceptions aside, but this can’t be covered in a blog post). What about spotlight attention, slow and with focus? TikTok videos are not conducive to spotlight attention – it’s a massive floodlight, over and over.

All of this is even more precarious for anyone sensitive to overstimulation, especially visual and auditory ones. You can do a simple experiment: Scroll a bit through TikTok or Insta-Reels, and see what it does to your breath and heart rate. See how many times your breath hitched, or you even held it. Compare the base rate normal for you to where you end up during and after scrolling.

Social media has brought us many positives that I truly appreciate

However, it is paramount to be aware of the numerous negatives. I simply don’t want them for myself, and I also feel very ambivalent about contributing to their impact on people’s brains.

That’s why I don’t do TikTok, and why I still prefer writing to creating videos. That also goes for consumption: Apologies to all the video content creators out there, but I hardly ever watch them.

If you want my thoughts, you will mostly need to read them. And it’s okay if that’s not your cup of tea, just like it isn’t my cup of tea to watch videos and reels. We just shouldn’t feel we have to change just because „everyone does it, and that’s what people want these days”. We should be aware of what is good for us, how things make us feel, what our goals are. We should ask ourselves these, sometimes uncomfortable, questions, and answer them with honesty.

I am concerned that we are slowly being trained (and social media companies have an interest in this for numerous reasons) into exclusive floodlight attention if we aren’t careful.

Yes, we might crave the next dopamine hit. But what we want isn’t always what we need…


References

Firth JA, Torous J, Firth J. Exploring the Impact of Internet Use on Memory and Attention Processes. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(24):9481. Published 2020 Dec 17. doi:10.3390/ijerph17249481

Firth J, Torous J, Stubbs B, et al. The “online brain”: how the Internet may be changing our cognition. World Psychiatry. 2019;18(2):119-129. doi:10.1002/wps.20617

Nikkelen SW, Valkenburg PM, Huizinga M, Bushman BJ. Media use and ADHD-related behaviors in children and adolescents: A meta-analysis. Dev Psychol. 2014;50(9):2228-2241. doi:10.1037/a0037318

Ra CK, Cho J, Stone MD, et al. Association of Digital Media Use With Subsequent Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adolescents. JAMA. 2018;320(3):255–263. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.8931

About Petra Borzynski

Petra Borzynski is a voice coach and therapist with special expertise in helping (performing) artists and creatives to overcome limiting beliefs and emotional blocks to perform better and without fear. She has helped hundreds of people to prepare for or sustain a singing career, find personal fulfilment through music and overcome limiting beliefs & performance anxiety. Her articles on singing, creativity and performance psychology have been featured in several publications.

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