I’m a creator. Here’s why I deleted TikTok.

This past weekend, I posted a 15-second video to TikTok that became - for me - quite popular and hit over 10,000 views. I experienced the typical adrenaline rush and thrill at the attention. But the more I thought about it, the more hollow it all felt. The video didn't come from any creative inspiration. It wasn't meaningful content. It wasn't even a random fluke driven by TikTok's algorithms. It was, quite simply, an attempt to follow the zeitgeist and carve out an audience. And while it gave me a fleeting sense of validation, it didn't align with my values or passions as a creator. I took a day or so to think about it. And then, I deleted my TikTok account. It's not a huge loss - I had barely any followers there, and I certainly wasn't an influencer, micro, macro or otherwise.

It had simply become clear that TikTok isn't who I want to be as a writer or a creator. It isn't even remotely what I want to be as a consumer.

In many ways, TikTok represents the apex of socially networked platforms designed explicitly to command human attention and hijack free will. No other app has weaponised the science of persuasion and vulnerable aspects of human psychology so effectively. TikTok's format pushes creators and viewers toward short, snackable content meant more for diversion than contemplation. Spending time there pulled me away from engaging deeply with text, away from crafting essays with care and purpose.

The algorithms that drive TikTok are designed to maximise engagement at all costs. They present users with endless customised content to captivate their attention. The more time we spend mindlessly scrolling, the more data gets fed back into the algorithms to further refine their manipulative powers. It becomes a vicious cycle that is difficult to break free from.

In her Pulitzer-winning novel Beloved, Toni Morrison employs a narrative style known as the "stream of consciousness." Passages meander through characters' minds — glancing across fleeting observations, memories, emotions and sensations as they arise. The effect closely mirrors the turbulence of human thought and feeling — sometimes luminous, sometimes muddy.

Through the chaos, her style asks the reader for active engagement and interpretation; stream-of-consciousness novels make for notoriously demanding reads. Without the reassuring constraint of the plot, the reader must supply the sense-making. Passages that initially seem opaque or aimless reveal deeper connections and meanings only through time and reflective thought. Profound rewards await readers willing to immerse themselves in the depth of the text.

In contrast, TikTok's stream-of-consciousness format presents little more than superficial fragments that are not designed to challenge or press their audience. The content matters little - it’s a vehicle to stimulate neural reward pathways related to novelty, outrage and validation to emotionally manipulate users and maximise addiction. Unlike Morrison’s purposeful disconnect between passages, TikTok disjointedly hurls videos chosen by opaque algorithms designed to capture our time and attention for profit.

Engineering addiction and distraction may benefit TikTok's bottom line. But endless scrolling leaves users more fragmented, polarised and depleted without helping them understand each other better. The rapid influx of hyper-stimulating content outpaces wisdom. As ethicist Tristan Harris observes, when technologies create behaviour change faster than wisdom, you get mass confusion. People consume unprecedented amounts of content while feeling more distracted, overwhelmed and divided than ever.

Content designed for distraction and diversion comes at a high cognitive cost. Researchers have found that overusing rapid-fire social media can decrease grey matter density in brain areas related to focus, memory, learning and emotion regulation. The effects compound over time, making engaging in deeper thinking and reflection increasingly difficult. Our capacity for concentration suffers, along with mental resilience.

I realise many creative, talented people are doing meaningful work on TikTok - particularly creators of colour, in the tradition of the voices who made Vine a thriving social network. I’ve spoken before about the ideas, joy, and messages of Gen Z creators that have inspired and pushed me to be a better writer. But as talented and incredible as their voices are, their content ultimately gets reduced to commodified clips feeding an algorithmic monster.

High-quality creators drive engagement metrics that benefit the platform, but TikTok fails to reciprocate with any meaningful support, systematically disadvantaging and exploiting the very users fuelling its rise. Hardworking creators supply TikTok and its billionaire investors with revenue-generating labour but have no ownership or agency over the means of distribution or the ability to build secure livelihoods.

As much as TikTok depends on the viral hits produced by these creators, especially Black creators, the platform fails to support and compensate them adequately. Their hard work and creativity are reduced to merely disposable "content" by TikTok - a commodity for the platform to use for engagement and revenue.

Worse still, TikTok's algorithms are racially biased against the very creators that energise the app. Black creators have spoken openly about videos being suppressed, seeing dramatically lower view counts, and struggling to sustain growth in the way white creators do on TikTok.

TikTok relies heavily on artificial intelligence to drive its algorithms. But AI models inevitably absorb and amplify the biases present in their training data - often to the detriment of marginalised groups. Racial biases embedded within algorithms systematically disadvantage Black content creators on TikTok despite their vital cultural contributions.

TikTok may be no worse than any other social platform, but its current ubiquity, hyper-stimulating format and algorithmic amplification of objectionable content can profoundly impact young users during key developmental phases. Children and teenagers do not yet possess fully formed critical thinking or self-regulation abilities. They need support and guidance to navigate the torrent of content in healthy ways. But parents struggle with setting effective limits on phone use given how deeply engrained social platforms now are in teen peer culture.

Society continues to underestimate the profound individual and collective impacts of these attention-hijacking technologies invented primarily with profits in mind rather than human well-being. We dismiss concerns about social media addiction and distraction as simply a matter of personal responsibility - just put down your phone and develop some self-control! But that viewpoint demonstrates a glaring lack of understanding about the issue.

Powerful AI algorithms have turned capturing human attention into an arms race that our free will and analog-era cognitive capacities are ill-equipped to withstand. Social media now mediates and distorts key developmental phases of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood with little oversight or accountability. Entire business models are built on hijacking the weaknesses of human psychology for profit and power - with minimal regard for the public good.

As Yuval Noah Harari writes in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, "In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power." Our attention is finite and precious. And we must be increasingly selective about how and where we spend it. Platforms like TikTok — which boasts over 1 billion monthly active users — command massive amounts of human attention. But on an individual level, spending endless hours passively consuming TikTok clips trains our minds to have ever shorter attention spans, eroding our capacity for deeper thinking and reflection.

I am purposefully re-dedicating myself to text - essays, articles and links. In the pivot to video and streaming that defines the current cultural zeitgeist, I aim to zig against the zag by crafting written pieces and curated ideas with depth and nuance. I'm not here to attract clicks or carve out some fragment of online attention. I want to invite genuine engagement by sharing my authentic perspective. While rapid-fire social platforms prize distraction and diversion, I want my work to provide clarity. I want to counterbalance the information deluge with writing that rewards time and reflective thought. My focus rests squarely on substance and meaning rather than trends or virality.

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