TikTok is the most Baudrillardian of Social Networks. Channel Hoppers, Jenkins, Mcluhan, TikTok’s UX and the need for Discernment.
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Snapchat App Design: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/tiktok-snapchat-app-design
Defining Media Ecology: https://thecoolmedium.com/2017/02/20/defining-media-ecology/
Notes on Jean Baudrillard, The Consumer society (1970): https://marginalutilityannex.wordpress.com/2005/05/09/notes-on-jean-baudrillard-the-consumer-society-1970/
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No Clock On TIKTOK
I’m 35 and my group of millennial friends are split 50/50 on the subject of TikTok. There’s those who get it and those who don’t care. I fall into the second category.
The intro today is what it’s like to be sat across the room from someone who is using TikTok. A disjointed sonic assault can go on for an hour. As a result I’ve been thinking a lot about TikTok recently. I’m also aware that this episode is theorybro heavy. If anyone knows women who are writing about this stuff please do let me know.
My reactionary opinion is that TikTok is the most Baudrillardian of social networks. Ballardian in its execution.
I now appreciate how infuriated my dad used to get when I was channel hopping as a teenager. Whilst he was trying to read the newspaper. Sorry Dad.
In his 2006 book Convergence Culture. Henry Jenkins‘ describes people who channel surf as ‘zappers’. Individuals who “constantly flit across the dial—watching snippets of shows rather than sitting down for a prolonged engagement.“
Jenkins references Phillip Swann’s 2000 book TV.com: How Television is Shaping Our Future. Which says ‘Few viewers today can sit through an entire program without picking up the remote and checking out another channel . . . Today’s viewer needs constant gratification: If she’s not entertained or intrigued for any stretch of time, she will flip the dial’”
Jenkins goes on to explain that reality television was the first form of television to leverage channel surfing as a phenomenon. Reality television is built around ‘attractions’. “Short, highly emotionally charged units that can be watched in or out of sequence.”
This also describes TikTok’s design document.
We’ll circle back to TikTok being Baudrillardian shortly. But first, I must bring up Mcluhan.
His 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man is most famous for ‘the medium is the message’. But the book also introduces us to the concept of Typographic Space
Before the invention of the written word humanity lived in an acoustic space. Defined by the primacy of spoken communication.
In contrast. With the invention of writing typographic space engages with the visual sense.
Typographic space is characterised by linear, segmented, “one-at-a-time-ness.” IE reading one word after another. So Typographic consciousness favours comprehending discrete elements in a linear fashion.
This also sounds like that design document.
McLuhan believed that the advent of electronic media signaled a return to acoustic space. “The flow of images and disjointed nature of channel surfing disrupts the linear character of typographic culture. Television enabled a stream of images and information from different times, places, and sources. Thereby reviving the “all-at-once-ness” of acoustic space and inaugurating the electronic global village.“
I mentioned this phenomenon in passing last year in episode 1921.
On TikTok both spaces are present at the same time. Typographic in experience. But the mixing, sharing, and adaption of ideas is acoustic. And pretty much defines the networks complex culture. Jenkins’s short, emotionally charged units are presented to us in a linear fashion. TikTok is the climax of the form of reality TV in many ways.
But as we know the medium is also the message. TikTok’s UX is a total attention trap. The videos play in full screen as soon as you open the app. Navigation beyond the video feed requires swipes that make finding screen time settings completely undiscoverable. Importantly, like a casino the UX hides the device’s clock. This creates an atemporal experience. Avoiding any signs that the user might be wasting their time and sovereign attention.
In The Consumer society 1970. Baudrillard said a person “will never manage to waste enough time to be rid of the inevitability of spending their lives earning it”.
And so we’ve circled back.
In a 2005 post on The Consumer Society, Rob Horning notes that:
In consumer society, pleasing oneself appears the key to pleasing others. Pleasing others, then, becomes important as a means of pleasing oneself, which is the ultimate goal. One consumes as an act of self-indulgence, in the attempt to create for oneself. Spontaneity is celebrated so that it may be contained and effaced
This also sums up TikTok’s ‘create and consume’ design document.
Given what we’ve briefly explored around channel hopping, and consumption on TikTok. I’d like to propose that the action of video skipping is in many ways more important than the content.
The user experience is optimised around the act of changing channels. Being a user of TikTok is about expressing consumer judgment. It is enjoyable to make up your mind about what you want to watch with maximum speed and accuracy. This is an important feature of TikTok that I haven’t seen mentioned before. With every video skip inside the typographic space of the feed an act of discernment occurs. Like searching for ripe berries in a hedge row.
Discernment is an important skill when operating inside our highly networked technological reality. It’s a skill completely unleveraged in Twitters design grammar. In contrast, Discernment is at the core of swipe right dating apps for example. If we were shown one tweet at a time, discernment might develop and change the way we engage with the network. I dunno. Anyway thats where I am on the subject of TikTok.
Before I go I’m happy to announce. I’ve started a youtube show with a gentle premise: Browsing the web together. You can find out more and subscribe by heading to Come Internet With dot Me.
The script above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in audio due to time constraints.
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