Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

The Problem With Passive Consumption

Watching Tik Tok and reels comes with consequences beyond wasted time. College students should make active choices about their consumption to live intentionally during these crucial years. 
A student is captivated by Tik Tok.

You open Tik Tok for a quick escape from stress. Scrolling through endlessly enticing visuals, the app offers euphoric entertainment… at first.

After about two hours, you finally gather up the urge to put your phone down. You are left feeling lethargic and under-stimulated, barely able to recall the strangers that have just vacuumed up your time.

Despite the consequences of falling down this rabbit hole, particularly for college students, it remains an ever-present option for entertainment.

According to a study conducted at the University of Arkansas, young adults who spent over 300 minutes a day on social media were 2.8 times more likely to become depressed within six months when compared to their peers who were on these apps for less than 120 minutes per day.

Meanwhile, 1 in 3 college students experiences significant depression and anxiety, according to a 2022 article from the Mayo Clinic Health System.

Unlike many other factors, one’s Tik Tok consumption can be controlled.

Obviously, this is not an easy feat. Even if a Tik Tok user understands the basic consequences intellectually, boredom and the urge for a quick escape are all it takes for them to let the app win and overindulge.

Therefore, it is even more important to actively consider what role these videos play in our lives—are they making us happy, or doing the opposite?

These issues in young people are often attributed to social media as a whole, but according to Furman Communication Studies Professor and Chair Dr. John McArthur, reel-style videos have created a unique challenge for users.

“I don’t think anybody among us would ever go sit in a movie theater and just see what comes on. We don’t go sit at a sports bar and just see what comes on. But on social media, we just sit there and we see what comes on,” McArthur said.

Within Tik Tok, our consumption habits are left entirely up to an algorithm—the only choice we make is to start watching. By the time we should have had enough, the app has taken over our willpower, attention, and emotion.

On other social media apps such as Instagram and Facebook, we consume the content created by those we already follow, so we generally know what we are in for. However, each reel or Tik Tok is new to us. While this aspect contributes to the excitement of the platform, frequent surges of new and unpredictable content are damaging to our attention spans and emotions as we begin to see it as normal.

In the unique environment of college, we have a newfound agency over how we spend our time. We are engaging with content, developing community, and building lifelong habits that will set us up for success throughout our lives. Reels and Tik Toks, with their immense power to grab and retain our attention, are particularly dangerous for our lifestyle choices during this transition.

By recognizing the unique power these videos have over us, we can make more informed decisions about the role we let it play in our lives.

Reels have changed the social media landscape drastically, as users increasingly favor short-form videos. According to new research from Omida, Tik Tok is projected to account for 37% of the estimated digital video advertising revenue in 2027. Together, YouTube and Meta are expected to compose only 24%.

This data also shows how we have traded parasocial relationships with creators of more in-depth videos for quick hits from strangers.

After scrolling for an hour on the For You Page, could we even recall who we have watched?

McArthur notes that watching content with no prior connection to our lives is dangerous for our entertainment experience. “That has a further distancing effect for us, drawing us away from the things that are actually important to us and in our lives, and instead drawing us toward things that are brief, temporary, gratifying, emotional, or just popular,” McArthur said.

Reels control our emotions, without our consent. Each swipe is like a jolting turn on a roller coaster. One minute you are watching a cute dog that puts you at ease, and the next you could be watching a clip of a horror movie that unexpectedly harnesses your fear and anxiety.

In this format, we are destined to feel whatever the algorithm tells us to experience. Inevitably, such fast-paced exposure to these highs and lows will cause emotional exhaustion or we will become used to it and desensitized.

The fast-moving and always-encapsulating flow of endless content is also damaging to our attention spans, which affects everything else we do. We are accustoming ourselves to 15-second videos, and longer videos now bore us.

A well-developed attention span should be viewed as a valuable resource to college students. It is what allows us to focus, be productive, and commit to our passions.

With frequent consumption of Tik Tok threatening this asset, it’s time to consider if these videos are worth this trade-off.

Of course, there are some benefits to Tik Tok for young people. For example, the app can bring users into communities that they may not have in real life and allow them to learn about other people’s experiences.

However, this sense of community is only second in reel-style videos’ ability to entertain us by stealing a user’s attention and emotion for hours. Stronger digital communities can be found without such a tendency toward addiction on YouTube, TV, and in movies, while also encouraging long-term investment in creators and stories.

Taking an active role in our consumption habits is a necessary step for leading healthier, fuller lives as media continues to evolve to capture our attention and emotion in even better ways.

In whatever way is best for the individual, I urge college students to be aware of how their consumption is affecting them. If deleting the app is too big of a step, by sticking to videos in the following feed, users will at least minimize some of the consequences.

Some may be faced with FOMO if they try to delete the app, as Tik Tok is often a hub of generational connection and shared cultural moments. However, these trends will likely seem inconsequential with some distance as their minimal role in one’s personal life becomes clear.

Restricting all access to this content is ideal if we want to reset our attention span. However, setting times and places that Tik Tok is off limits to us, such as at one’s desk or during the day, may improve consumption as users can begin to regain control over their scrolling habits.

In this culture of high-consequence media, students too often fall victim to whatever the algorithm has in store for them. It does not have to be this way.

While Tik Tok may feel irresistible now, that quick dopamine hit is nothing compared to how it will feel to regain agency over one’s time and energy. Give it a try.

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About the Contributor
Audrey Enghauser
Audrey Enghauser, Editor-in-Chief
Audrey is a sophomore Communications major with a minor in Poverty Studies. She loves leading the team in producing and expanding quality journalism for the Furman community. Outside the newsroom, she produces a podcast for the Malone Center called Career Chronicles and is a member of Furman’s quirkiest fraternity: co-ed service organization Alpha Phi Omega. She can usually be found bullet journalling to bring some calmness and creativity to her chaotic day-to-day life, or watching Seinfeld and Gilmore Girls, her ultimate comfort shows.
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