31 March 2023


Due to the recent headlines about TikTok I decided to check it out. Most of what I saw was exceedingly stupid, but otherwise fairly innocuous, so I’ve become more skeptical about the claims of politicians. It is one thing if it in fact is a vehicle to enable the CCP to spy on us, in which case it might then be a threat. They are also tracking and collecting personal information, but so are all the other platforms, and at present they may be having enough trouble keeping track of their own people to bother much with ours. Otherwise, I can’t imagine much use for a collection of dopey videos. There may or may not be something more there, but the only way to find out is to do some serious research instead of shooting first and asking questions later.

 The more salient concern is what negative impact it is having on vulnerable, impressionable young people. But that feature of social media is hardly unique to TikTok, so the Chinese element may be irrelevant, apart from sour grapes from Silicon Valley over the success they have had. Instagram, which began as a place to share photos, has been transformed into a clone of TikTok, with identical short, mindless videos, and there are others, so the phenomenon would persist even if there were no TikTok.


Throughout almost all of history there was no “gap” between generations. Even in modern times, the 1960s, and possibly the 1920s were aberrations. Thus, we have the phenomenon of younger people still connecting with music that is five or more decades old.


But now there is something that really is different and barely perceptible to most adults. These kids have grown up with an almost integral connection to social media. The rest of us grew up with a variety of experiences and venues such as movies, television, publications, as well as far more interaction with the physical world. For these kids everything, all of it, is online, especially social media, which has resulted in a very different perception of the world around us as well as what matters. If you’re not “there” you basically don’t exist. The paramount path to notoriety now is there, not in other media, which has generated a horde of aspiring “influencers,” as well as outsized significance provided to the insignificant. 


If it was simply a different perspective it wouldn’t matter so much, but with a growing realization of how much real harm is being done, it is very consequential, if not critical. 


Social media has become a vehicle for boundless narcissism, not just for kids but for adults as well. In this world everybody is a star (which can also effectively mean that nobody is). When someone puts up a video of themselves doing silly, or routine things like exercising, frequently lip-synching with a dreadful soundtrack, they do so in the hopes of gaining recognition, likes, followers, and other forms of positive feedback validating their lives. But what happens to the vulnerable when the feedback is negative? Clearly it can be devastating. 


Even adults are not immune to this sort of exposure to the extent that they can bristle at any negative reactions to what they post. Thus, what social media fundamentally gives us, to the extent that we allow it to, is naked, exposed egos. For the young, or those with fragile egos, the consequences can be  catastrophic.


Yet much here is not new. Even in the earliest years of the Internet there was negativity via “flame wars.” A quarter of a century ago AOL provided essentially the same material as Facebook but arguably better. Then there was MySpace, where everyone soon had a Page, but with the technology of the time pages rich with graphics and blasting music incessantly, they took forever to load, so the plain, simple interface of Facebook left them in the dust. But both heralded something new- the real you. 


Back on AOL virtually everyone had a handle, not many real names were used, personal information wasn’t exposed, and there were few photos. Thus, you really couldn’t know who was and wasn’t real, but at the same time you were reasonably safe. Here may lie the crux of the matter and possibly the easiest solution to the social media conundrum.


Banning a service or attempting to control it all is neither viable nor desirable, with the possible exception of platforms. But if people were limited in their personal exposure, many problems would dissipate. Furthermore, under current conditions privacy has been shredded. As long as personal information is out there, or worse even promoted, problems will persist. What we really need to do, for the protection of the public, is simply limit the exposure of personal information, especially on public venues. If this were to come about there would likely be a healthy loss of interest, once “me” or “I” were out of the picture. Life then might hopefully return to normal.  

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