How much time do I spend on TikTok? I can tell you which chiropractor is demonstrating their technique without even seeing their face. I know which fashion content creator is partial to Rei Kawakubo, and who has a preposterous Carol Christian Poell collection. I know which New York City microinfluencers go on vacation together, and which creators are building a modest following joking about the music of a small scene of rappers who make Playboi Carti sound like Kendrick Lamar.
Through endless hours of scrolling — an hour a day, at least, for several years now — I’ve been accumulating hyperniche expertise predicated on my interests, conscious and subconscious. The result has been a gathering of online characters that, at this point, shape my cultural consumption far more than any celebrity or news source.
This is what TikTok intends to do, tapping into pure id, drilling down on what you know and what you might want to know in hopes that you never leave the app’s forever scroll. Of all the social media platforms, it holds the greatest promise of kismet. It’s the one that has seemed most in tune with individual taste and most capable of shaping emerging monoculture.
But increasingly in recent months, scrolling the feed has come to resemble fumbling in the junk drawer: navigating a collection of abandoned desires, who-put-that-here fluff and things that take up awkward space in a way that blocks access to what you’re actually looking for.
This has happened before, of course — the moment when Twitter turned from good-faith salon to sinister outrage derby, or when Instagram, and its army of influencers, learned to homogenize joy and beauty. (Some apps, like the TikTok precursor Vine, were shuttered before ever becoming truly tiresome.) Similarly, the malaise that has begun to suffuse TikTok feels systemic, market-driven and also potentially existential, suggesting the end of a flourishing era and the precipice of a wasteland period.