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TikTok gets its first ‘why I quit the app’ essay
Photography @plqml, via Unsplash

The first known ‘why I deleted my TikTok’ essay goes viral

A Cornell University student explains why he finally axed the ‘addictive’ app that’s ‘designed to keep us glued to our screens’

At every stage in a social media app’s life, it will be on the receiving end of a ‘how to quit’ essay. Whether on the basis of a political protest (see: Facebook), or in an attempt to protect your mental health, every platform will be criticised for something and ultimately face calls for its deletion. It’s a rite of passage, and one now faced by TikTok.

In the first known piece of its kind, Cornell University student Niko Nguyen explains why he decided to delete the “addictive” app. “This is getting out of hand,” he wrote. “I can’t let this consume my life. I’m stronger than this; I can beat this. It needs to end. Now.”

The essay, written for The Cornell Daily Sun, offers an insight into the ubiquitous nature of the app in Gen Z’s lives. “My group chats were constantly inundated by waves of TikToks my friends found funny,” Nguyen continued. “Scrolling through Instagram Stories and Twitter, I found myself consuming the short-form videos outside of (TikTok) itself. Offline, when I was with my friends, we would reference TikToks, joke about TikToks, remake TikToks. It squirmed and squeezed its way into every corner of my social life.”

Nguyen blames the fact that the app is “designed to keep us glued to our screens” for its obsessive appeal, particularly pinpointing its For You page, which shows an endless feed of content from users you don’t necessarily follow. “Although you can follow and ‘friend’ a lot of accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat,” he explained, “there’s eventually a point where all the ‘interesting’ content runs dry. With TikTok, that isn’t the case.”

He also adds that the “viral nature of TikTok has produced an entirely new generation of youths viewing social media as a performative pursuit”. Although social media “inherently possesses and endorses posturing for others online”, he says, TikTok has taken this a step further by encouraging actual performance art by way of lip syncing, dancing, acting, and more.

“It has broadened the definition of what social media is: TikTok isn’t merely a social app to share posts and mindlessly scroll through. For almost every user, it’s become an activity, a hobby, a project, a transactional video dialogue between user and camera.” 

Though Instagram has its own fair share of influencers, TikTok’s stars are gaining global success. Take Lil Nas X and Ashnikko as examples: two musicians whose songs blew up on the platform, resulting in IRL chart hits. Some of the app’s influencers are so in demand that they’ve rented a mansion in LA – dubbed the ‘Hype House’ – as a round-the-clock content-creating hub.

Initially launched in 2016, TikTok is now the fastest-growing social media app, with 500 million regular users – reportedly more than Snapchat and Twitter combined – and 1.5 billion downloads, while 90 per cent of those who download the app access it on a daily basis – to put that into perspective, three quarters of all apps are downloaded, accessed once, then never used again.

“So, what is it that made the decision to delete TikTok so difficult?” Nguyen questions. “TikTok’s addictive nature and emphasis on performing online explain the stranglehold on today’s youth. It has rewritten the rules for social media platforms, changing the way we interact with and consume social media. But with these changes come a slew of potential pitfalls. The app has produced a legion of wannabe entertainers and influencers, giving the average high school student the illusion of a personal platform capable of launching them to TikTok fame.”

He concluded: “Next time you swipe through your phone fiending for your daily TikTok fix, measure the weight of your app consumption. Does it have you sucked into its addictive grasp?”