One of the goals of social media is to identify human psychology’s weaknesses and take as much advantage of it as possible, and they are willing to pay the price for it. The economic model of a social media company consists of one thing: our attention. We aren’t spending any money to use social media, but we are paying the price by the time we spend instead of sleeping and all the tasks we reschedule for later while passively scrolling. Every company came up with an algorithm, and we now know that social media is addictive. But no company tops the mastodon Tik-Tok. They don’t especially have a better algorithm than their concurrents, but they use it the best, and here’s how.
Let’s take YouTube as an example: on the app, you can choose whatever video you want to watch according to the thumbnails and your homepage. YouTube already knows what you like because your curiosity previously pushed you into looking for topics, content creators, or music, and will recommend this to you whenever you are on the app. Tik-Tok (and Reels for Instagram or Shorts for YouTube – the format is the same) is the total opposite of that. The second you open the app, you are already consuming content that the app chooses For You. They limited the choices you have to make to watch content to one: scrolling to the following video. In one video, you are watching someone dancing. Scroll, and you see a cute dog playing with water. Scroll, you see a humorist show, and 10 minutes later, you are still on the toilet seat, and you didn’t see the time flying away. And that’s because you had no conscious choice to make as the app sends you unlimited short and stimulating content to test your interests.
In a few hours, the app already knows your music taste, your sense of humor, your sexual orientation, and even your mental health status. Your experience doesn’t revolve around the content you seek or the creators you follow. It’s about who you are. All your time spent on the app is training it to get to know you better.
When you scroll and watch content that you like, you get a boost of dopamine. Watching content, you never expected to be interesting gives you a more significant dopamine boost due to the surprise effect. Studies show that unexpected rewards stimulate areas of the brain connected to behavior development and learning. The big deal here is that it’s an infinite feed of content, and every video could be a bigger dopamine shot than the previous one – that’s why Tik-Tok has an average spent time of 52 minutes per day across the world. Addiction starts when your brain assimilates the movement of your finger scrolling to the trending music you hear in the videos. There, your subconscious group these two factors together and tell your body that this is a dopamine source.
Starting from this point, every activity that doesn’t consist of having dopamine peaks every 30 seconds will make you feel like an eternity. You are going to lose the motivation to seek long-term gratification. You are also going to lose focus on reading a book, watching a movie, spending off-screen time with your loved ones, and in the end, lose the capacity to think. We often underestimate the impact of social media in the longer term. Recent studies show that addictive tendencies and overexposure to dopamine are killing brain cells. In other words, the more you are exposed to this free dopamine, the dumber you become. You are losing creativity, and it makes you make unreasonable and vacuous decisions because your subconscious is too busy looking at teenagers dancing. There is no more “brain space” left to function correctly. In the end, it reduces the mental bandwidth that is making decisions. The dumber the findings are, the more you will stay in your comfort zone and watch what you already know. If you send the signal to your brain that it is Tik-Tok that makes you happy, you enter a chemical cycle that strengthens itself. Whenever you are bored during the day, you will open Tik-Tok, not because of a lack of discipline, but because of cerebral reflex. You are enduring the same symptoms as alcoholics or dope fiends, but nobody will worry because the symptoms aren’t physical. They’re only in your head.
Because it has the tools, Tik-Tok rewired the cables in our brains in order for us to think that our happiness depends on the app. With one billion active users (at least using the app once a month), Tik-Tok is in the head of 12% of the world population. Mainly young people, who will never get their cognitive capacities back as the prefrontal cortex (which is responsible for the regulation of emotions, motivation, decisions, and memory) is not entirely formed before 25. It is the most impacted area by this free dopamine.
Many people are worried about the improvement of Artificial Intelligence, but I think we should be more concerned about the decline of ours.
Comment TikTok a b*isé le cerveau d’une génération – Léo Duff
(The Psychology behind unexpected rewards – Luke Kreitner)
(This is Your Brain on Tik-Tok – Jonathan Michaelson)
(Tik-Tok Is Altering The Behavior Of An Entire Generation – Julien Dimastromatteo)
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