TikTok is ruining your…oh right! Attention span

TikTok is ruining your…oh right! Attention span

Sofia Kim , Staff Writer

Over winter break, I finally had the chance to lock myself in my room and binge-watch “The White Lotus.” I was immediately hooked by the relatable characters and amusing script. Time flew by as I finished the first episode, so much so that when I looked at the clock, I had finished a 58-minute episode in… 34 minutes.

My secret to time travel? I fast-forwarded past every scene that seemed boring or couldn’t hold my attention for more than a few minutes. I didn’t know why it was so hard for me to sit down and watch a full episode of a show, something I used to easily do. This impatience has become a common occurrence for me; I can’t watch a movie without looking up the ending or read a book without flipping to the last page. 

As social media becomes a central and addictive part of our lives, there’s no doubt we are adversely affected by apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok. While I don’t use Instagram and Snapchat much anymore, I constantly get sucked into my TikTok ForYou page, watching random people do random things. 

Today’s internet accessibility has caused our desire for new content, trends, and information to skyrocket. TikTok is uniquely addicting. The platform feeds its users an endless stream of videos that are less than three minutes each: the perfect length to capture one’s attention without bore. TikTok videos are short and straight to the point, making it popular among youth; 60% of TikTok’s one billion users are between the ages of 16-24. TikTok’s infinitely scrolling, personally tailored, ForYou page feature is extremely distracting and can fill just a one minute void with entertainment, satisfying the constant need for entertainment even better than regular television. The app is designed to suck you in and make you watch video after video and its effects persist long after you close the app. Even when we get ourselves to do something else, like watching a movie or reading a book, the TikTok-taught habit of scrolling when a video is boring or rewatching if it’s funny prevents us from paying full attention if the activity lasts longer than a couple of minutes. 

When a task isn’t extremely interesting, like reading primary source documents, it’s instinctual to reach for my phone and check for notifications, even if I didn’t hear anything go off. If there’s nothing, I might go looking for food in the kitchen. Nothing looks good? Then I’ll try to play my brother’s cello for fun until I become disinterested. At the University of California Irvine, Dr. Gloria Mark conducted a study on screen-related distractions in an office. On average, workers spent only 75 seconds on a task before switching to another tab. They were prompted by an internal desire to change tasks for no reason other than novelty, indicating that digital users’ attention span is on a rapid decline. 

Physical screens themselves also contribute to our decreasing attention spans. They are designed to make people read superficially — a skim and scroll — without deeply engaging with the texts. When reading on paper, we often go slower, allowing time for comprehension, analysis, and empathy. Our brains adapt to the reading style we use most commonly. So, if you read on a screen more often than on paper, it is hard to revert back to slow and critical reading, even when you have a piece of paper in front of you.

These compounding attention-drainers make our daily English reading homework longer to finish or SAT reading passages harder to comprehend. Even fun things, such as watching TV or playing a game, become harder to pay attention to, pushing us back to checking out phones and social media.

Stopping this decreasing attention span is easy: delete TikTok and any other apps that consume your attention. However, that is an extreme response—I know I won’t be deleting TikTok anytime soon. 

You could also try to understand what’s distracting you, whether or not it’s a device. By acknowledging the distraction, you are at least aware of what apps and features you should avoid. Additionally, time your breaks: if you decide to scroll on TikTok between your history and math homework, make sure it’s really only for five minutes, not an hour. If you need a short distraction, watch a quick episode that has a definite ending, then start doing work. Finally, read on paper more often to train your brain for increased focus (sorry trees!). 

I am gradually implementing these tips into my daily routine, and I just finished “The White Lotus” with my parents who don’t know what fast-forwarding means. To be honest, I probably couldn’t focus long enough to explain it to them anyway. Congratulations for actually reading to the end of the article! How many phone breaks did it take?