Cards on the table — I'm an Elder Millennial. This means that I've had no problems adapting to technology's advances, the Internet, and a life lived very online. It also means that I'm at the age where the youth are an increasingly mysterious group. The music, the fashions, the fads — it's slowly beginning to escape my awareness and understanding.
That's how I first understood TikTok. It's just the latest iteration of something I didn't quite understand or felt compelled to engage with. It's a kids dancing and lip-syncing app, right?
While that certainly was a significant component of its early rise, I'm here to tell you that it's grown, evolved, and become something you (yes, you) should be aware of, if not following, enjoying, and creating yourself.
It's not a kid's dance app anymore. Well...ok, it's still that...but it's that plus these other things now too.
The history of Tiktok is fascinating, and its rise has been pretty meteoric, so you'd be forgiven for being surprised to hear that as of September of 2021, the app globally has over one billion active users. What's more, over half of all TikTok users are above the age of 30. See — Millennials Unite!
I don't want to gloss over the bigger picture here. The growth, the algorithm, the competitors (Netflix and Instagram), the returns to creators, the societal challenges wrought by social media, and TikTok specifically deserve careful attention.
I find it helpful when talking to the TikTok-Uninitiated to show them the breadth and depth of some of the areas they could find on the platform.
So here's a sampling — Full disclaimers that the algorithm is tossing me up precisely what I want to see, so your mileage may vary.
This is one of the most refreshing areas to get to see. There's a whole cadre of weird, quirky, charismatic, original comedy on the platform that blows Vine videos out of the water.
These days, the most viral are the Bones / No Bones daily updates from @JonGraz that let us viewers know if the 13-year-old pug has bones that day (interested in standing up) or no bones (definitely not interested in standing up).
One-person skits (with clever editing) are the real treasure in this category. @drglaucomflecken (a real-life ophthalmologist) has incredible one-person videos conveying the world of medicine and its stereotypical doctor specialties. @nomdecoom has excellent skits about Marco Polo discovering noodles in China or what it would have been like for a Babylonian Priest Inventing Astrology. @cearajane nails the workplace divide between Boomers and Millennials (this one is my favorite), while @corporatenatalie has become the master of all workplace interactions, particularly the new remote/conference life. In a similar vein, @corporayshid walks through every awkward (and non-awkward?) interaction possible, and @mnames_jeff does an incredible IT guy persona.
There's also random and weird stuff that you just wouldn't see on other platforms. More examples: a graphic design instructor lightly mocking student submissions (part 2 just as good), scoring the relative difficulty of Riker from Star Trek's distinct seating habits, this woman randomly turning into objects over time.
This is where the platform shines. Probably the most viral videos of late have been the Sea Shanties (the one that got me hooked), which uses the dueting feature of TikTok to stitch and splice together chains of videos to add something to the original video. Taken further, these videos feature some pretty incredible ensembles, usually starting from a... somewhat awkward seed video, such as a cat making a funny noise, another cat making a funny noise, or a dryer making a funny noise.
There are some mini-masterpieces, from an evocative voice, to Star Wars renditions (french horn in a field, woman's voice under a bridge). Combining with comedy, there is the incredibly viral Internet Drama from @lubalin, and this Law and Order: SVU theme production re-enactment. Finally, just the fun and bite-sized — this woman singing scales and this Korean group doing a handful of Windows theme startups acapella style.
Pets (But Really Mostly Cats)
Look, this might just be my algorithmic skewing, but there are many adorable cats and cat behaviors on here. Cats running (fast), cats modeling, a cat dancing like Beyoncé, a cat in slo-mo attacking a box, a cat in a towel burrito as punishment, a cat using a nerf gun, cats running up a custom pole (this inspired me to make my own one of these), a cat teaching another cat how to spin attack (with dialogue), a cat catching you looking at the neighbor's cat, and a cat listening to our problems (another one with actor Rhys Darby's cat who is less than impressed).
Oh, and here's a dog hearing his favorite words.
Relaxing, Art, and Repair
This might be my favorite current genre — anything from @relaxify or @toolstour, which shows off calming, hypnotic tools and processes (and epoxy crafts for some reason?). I've also been finding myself on the repair side of TikTok, with @watchrepairers, @ladbrestoration, and @anyflug.
There is some fantastic art being demonstrated on the platform, like this clay teapot by hand from @teapotcraftsman. I was blown away by @chrisbreier's color-matching clips (color-matching a CD). But broader pieces about art as well, like @artedguru talking about painting, and @davideasterbook discussing bonsai trees.
This is where TikTok can shine — there is so much good informative content being produced. An excellent recent demonstration is this video demonstrating how COVID vaccines work, but also more generally anything from science educator @hankgreen1, and compelling stories from @tomlumperson (this one about swinging bats...err...bats in swings is one of my all-time favorites and shows the platform's strengths.)
And Facts about Opossums. You didn't even know you wanted to know about opossums, but you know you do now.
There are also some outstanding commentary accounts, like @louisatalksbuildings (anything 432 Park Avenue is gold, as is this video on spite architecture). There are many helpful niche areas out there — design interaction tips from @designertom, freelance tips from @jamiebrindle, and commentary from Simon Sinek (of TED video fame).
Finally, this is I think one of the most exciting areas of TikTok and the one I was least expecting. There is just some randomly wholesome and feel-good material on there. Yes, some of it is gamed by the algorithm, and yes, some have the heavily-produced-heart-string-pull of platforms like The Dodo — but still.
Take, for example, this video of a trucker and his cat Bobbie just enjoying the morning. There's something just so genuine about the whole clip that seems so random and short and genre-less that you couldn't imagine another platform where it would find a home.
Another example is from @yourkoreandad, a heart-warming account of a POV-style account where he does activities with you, the viewer in mind as his child of various ages. It's a bit weird at first, but after seeing this reaction video where he talks about why he thinks his account is so popular, I understood a little better how powerful this might be.
Oh, and there are also people playing with stranger's feet shadows, and it's cute.
I'm telling you, there's some good stuff there.
I would love to hear from you about what accounts you find interesting, engaging, funny, and wholesome!