I want to talk about TikTok, because TikTok is my happy place. I want to explain why and how it’s different than any other social media, and why I love it so much. Before I get into why TikTok makes me so happy, I’ll run through the other social media platforms and how I feel about them.
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
I’m on Facebook and it’s ok for keeping up with my friends and family, but I started pulling away from contributing when I noticed that my real-life experiences were getting diminished by my desire to capture them in photos and post them. I would also spend time checking to see how many likes I got. How is that healthy? I still go there and post from time to time but I’m not obsessed like I used to be and I’m happier that way.
Instagram is another story. I don’t understand why people like it so much. I find the interface for photos irritating (why can’t I zoom in?) and the fact that there’s no iPad or desktop app drives me nuts. If you go to Instagram via the web, you don’t get a plus button so you can’t contribute, and I _like_ to contribute. On the Mac, I use a workaround. If you turn on the developer tools in your browser, you’ll find User Agent Switcher, which allows you to trick the website into thinking you’re coming in from a phone, and then you do get the plus button. How dumb is it that they actively make it so you can’t contribute from the desktop? I post occasionally in spite of that, and I go on it daily to see photos and videos of my grandchildren and then I get off.
I read a lot of Twitter and contribute a fair amount, but I’m not usually _happy_ there. I built my feed during the political rage of the previous four years and as a result it’s not at all a happy place. I’ve tried culling my feed but it’s so vast now that I can’t seem to dig out of it. There’s a reason people refer to reading Twitter as “doom scrolling”.
The only progress I made towards improving my enjoyment of Twitter was when I discovered the #BlackInChem hashtag. During Black in Chemistry week, this is on fire with brilliant black scientists talking about what they do. Oddly most of them seem to be women so I just started following lots of them. Then that lead to #BlackInBio and #BlackInPhysics and now at least some of my feed his filled with sciencey goodness. Even with all the doom in my feed, my favorite social media platform was Twitter until TikTok came along.
What Is TikTok
I’m going to assume you’ve never used TikTok so I can bring everyone along with me, and even if you already use TikTok I’m going to describe how I accidentally ended up on the happy path there instead of the doom path I took with Twitter.
First of all, TikTok is on every platform because you can use an app or you can use the web, and you get a great experience either way. No desktops being purposely banned nonsense. TikTok videos are very short, I think 30-60 seconds long, so if someone sends you one you’re not taking on a giant time commitment. Unless you get sucked into TikTok that is…
TikTok has basically two ways you can scroll through it: For You and Following. For You is things the algorithm thinks you’ll like. It starts by just offering you popular stuff, but as you hit the heart button, watch all the way through, follow people, rewatch videos, and even copy a link to forward, it starts to learn what you like. I think it’s critical that you are mindful of what you want TikTok to be for you before you start using it.
If you want it to be political, go for it and heart away on the videos that you enjoy. But if you want it to be pure joy, heart up those puppies and kittens. If you want to laugh, rewatch and forward things that make you laugh. If you want to learn, follow scientists or linguists or doctors or marginalized people who are teaching on TikTok.
I hearted and followed and forwarded an eclectic set of things with a strong bias towards things that make me laugh. There is some of the most hilarious stuff on TikTok that I’m compelled to share with my friends and family. So far they seem to like what I send, but they could just be being polite.
My favorite people on TikTok are people who lip-sync comedians. For some reason, women lip-syncing male comedians just crack me up. Their facial expressions just really do it for me. I’m not sure how TikTok gets away with the licensing of this content but they somehow have the rights to it because it doesn’t get taken down.
There’s a pregnant woman named Diana Rantamaki who uses this filter that makes her head way too big for her body, and she pretends to be an 11-year-old foul-mouthed, deranged boy named Derek. I don’t know what it is about it but she leaves me in stitches every single time. Remember, I warned you, she’s very foul-mouthed but hilarious.
For some reason, a few songs have become kind of like their own themes on TikTok. It’s sort of like a meme, where lots of people use the same photo with different joke lines attached. In the TikTok case, tons of people sing the exact same song. I’m not sure why it’s so compelling but it’s fascinating to watch and listen to these mostly a cappella singers. One of the meme songs is called The Wellerman and it’s really fun to hear it sung by so many different people.
From listening to a few of these meme songs, I came across a guy named Bobby Waters who has the lowest voice I’ve ever heard in my life (his handle is @the.bobbybass). I went through about 20 of his TikToks watching and listening to his amazing voice.
There’s also a concept called a Duet, which is where someone sings/talks/jokes around side by side with an existing TikTok video. Take all of these tools and ideas together, and The Bobby Bass did a Duet adding his double bass voice with subharmonics to The Wellerman sun by five other gentlemen from @earcandyofficial. It is _amazing_.
I follow a woman named Emily Hess who has some itty bitty jumping spiders, and she records videos of them with a super macro lens, and then does voiceovers in a high pitched voice as though it’s them talking. I know that sounds weird, and maybe even creepy if you don’t like spiders, but with her voice they are absolutely adorable and often really funny.
I follow a lot of school teachers, and their stories of things the kids say are hysterical. I really like Mr. Williams who teaches pre-K. He’s gay and wears colorful nail polish and talks a lot about inclusion and how he helps the kids feel good. He also reenacts the many times he’s out drinking in a bar on a weekend and a parent tells him they’re going to tell the principal about him.
I follow a trans non-binary person who goes by @thejeffreymarsh whose entire message is to spread kindness. They explain what it means to be trans and what it means to be non-binary. They’re compassionate and confident and they make me feel like everything is going to be ok.
There’s another category of TikTok that I find really fascinating, and that’s people with disabilities just talking about what it’s like to be them.
There’s a couple of women I’ve watched who have Tourette’s. One posted a video of herself trying to bake a cake, but her ticks are so bad she keeps throwing eggs across the room and dumping batter on the floor. She’s not being funny and she’s not trying to make people feel sorry for her, she’s just showing you her life. The other one tells funny stories about the crazy things her mouth just yells at the most incredibly inappropriate times.
I just saw a video by a young woman with autism who goes by @soundoftheforest. One delightful video of hers was when she recorded herself inside a car going through a car wash, just because she really _loves_ car washes. She’s so happy and joyful in this video while giving us a peek into her life. She also loves bugs, so people send her bug-related things and she does unboxing videos of these presents. My favorite was one she did all about dung beetles where she squealed with delight as she explained what’s cool about dung beetles.
There’s a young girl named Jordyn who has autism whose mom helps her do videos. Her mom explains Jordyn’s limitations and her strengths and they’ve created a company called Be Kind to Everyone. They sell shirts and Jordyn works packing the shirts and it has been a great thing for her life enjoyment. She has 844K followers. Why? Because she and her mom are kind to everyone. I bought one of her shirts!
I have discovered so many funny, amazing, compassionate and delightful people on TikTok and that’s why it makes me so happy. I could go on and on about the funny grammar people, the doctors who explain crazy diagnoses, the physicists that do experiments, the tall young many whose entire family is little people and how he punks his mom all the time, but I have to stop working on this article so I can go watch TikTok.