Why are reels and Tik Toks so addictive?

Understanding how these 15-second videos can be a new addiction
The average human attention span is now eight seconds
The average human attention span is now eight secondsThe Bridge Chronicle

With the attention span of social media junkies reducing, the popularity of short-form videos has been steadily increasing. Vine in 2012 was the first platform to introduce the format. It allowed its users to create six-second videos and share them, disrupting the internet video space.

As competitors like Instagram adopted the format, Vine was sidelined and ended in October 2016. And then Tik Tok entered the picture and revolutionised the internet. Tik Tok started as Douyin, which was created by Byte Dance exclusively for China.

The app was all the rage, as it garnered over 100 million users within one year who generated one billion views per day. To reach an international audience, the company released Tik Tok, the internationally available version of Douyin.

In November 2017, Bytedance acquired Musical.ly for one billion dollars. Musical.ly had similar features to Tik Tok and had a global reach. Both these ventures merged in August 2018 under the Tik Tok name. Since then, the app has hit one billion international downloads and has emerged as one of the best social media platforms in the world.

Especially in India, Tik Tok was very popular as the country commanded a massive user base. But in June 2020, the Indian Government banned Tik Tok alongside 59 other Chinese apps citing security concerns. Within a month, Instagram created its short video feature called reels. Now there has been a sudden emergence of countless other platforms that have entered this market.

The USP of these platforms is its endless cycle of short-form videos, which last for around 10-15 seconds. These may seem harmless and fun but are very addictive. Let us take a deeper look at how these affect your mind.

Happiness or sorrow, every moment must be captured.
Happiness or sorrow, every moment must be captured. Amanda Vick / Unsplash

15 seconds too many

In a study conducted in 2016, the average human attention span is now eight seconds, which is two seconds less than that of a goldfish. One reason for the decline is the increased consumption of information.

According to Philipp Lorenz-Spreen of Max Planck Institute for Human Development, “Content is increasing in volume, which exhausts our attention and our urge for ‘newness’ causes us to collectively switch between topics more regularly. Hence, these platforms have created this format that precisely fits this time frame. On Instagram reels, you can scroll through millions of 10-15 seconds long videos effortlessly.”

After attention, these platforms target the reward system of the user. The actions of human beings are driven by necessities (food, sex, sleep, etc.) and rewards. Our brain feels rewarded when an action or behaviour gives us pleasure. Information is also one such commodity that brings rewards.

The internal reward system is triggered by a neurotransmitter called Dopamine. It is the chemical that mediates pleasure in the brain. It is released during pleasurable situations and stimulates one to seek a gratifying activity or occupation.

So, Dopamine creates a feedback loop that pushes individuals to redo the actions that gave them pleasure. This process is seen in many addictions and now in reels and Tik Toks. So when a user doesn’t like a video, they will constantly scroll to achieve the desired reward. The information on these platforms is trendy, exciting and holds social currency. Hence demanding full, undivided attention.

In a nutshell, reels and Tik Toks don’t exhaust your short attention spans and present you with new and exciting information which keeps you hooked.

REELing you in

These platforms use a dynamic algorithm to understand the likes and dislikes of the users. The algorithm tracks content information through hashtags and engagements (if you like, share or save the video). Then it evaluates every video uploaded and determines the probability that you will enjoy it using classification information. So when you interact with a specific genre of videos, more often than not, you will see similar videos.

The algorithm suggests videos based on the user's engagement with certain type of videos.
The algorithm suggests videos based on the user's engagement with certain type of videos.Markus Spiske / Unsplash

Most users of platforms like Instagram reels and Tik Tok belong to the young-adult age group. Individuals of this age group are specifically susceptible to addictions. Hence, the combination of the algorithm, short attention span and the need for a Dopamine rush is malignant in the long run.

Effects on the mind

Increased usage of social media platforms has been linked to countless mental health problems. Disorders like anxiety, self-doubt, depression, body image issues have cited increased social media consumption as a weighty contributor.

Continuous use of social media platforms has already caused a decrease in the attention span of an average human being. This decline will continue with further consumption.

So internet users, remember, these 15-second videos may seem harmless but can lead to several problems. Yes, it is difficult to stay away from these platforms but we must find a way to detox, disconnect and reconnect with the real world. Talk to your loved ones, read a book or go for a walk and understand there is an entire world outside that 6-inch screen.

Social media can lead to countless mental health issues like Anxiety, depression etc.
Social media can lead to countless mental health issues like Anxiety, depression etc.Anthony Tran / Unsplash

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