Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Auburn U. Was Right To Ban Tik Tok - Sparing Students From 'Tik Tok Brain'

                                      "Uh...I duz think I got Tik Tok brain!"

 The past week Auburn University has evidently been in an uproar after the school banned Tik Tok.  Many of the students - as reported in a NY Times piece:  

Auburn Banned TikTok, and Students Can’t Stop Talking About It - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

are bemused and others are surprised and "can't stop talking" about it.  But the fact is Auburn is doing these kids a favor: Trying to spare their brains from going into the dumpster. This is given most of them likely haven't heard of "Tik Tok brain" and how it ravages memory, abstract thought, and analytic thinking. Nor is it just Auburn, as we also learn:

"Colleges in Idaho, including Boise State University, and the University of Oklahoma recently said that TikTok was banned from their campus Wi-Fi networks. Some, like Idaho State University, went so far as to deactivate its official TikTok account."

Is this an overreaction-  something like parents in the 50s going hypberbolic over comics? Not at all. 

The term “TikTok brain” itself is aptly coined to describe what this insidious app does to brains in their prime. Indeed, the very nature of the short videos endlessly trotted out – impairs memory and overall mental functioning over time. Kids are left staring at their tiny screens for most of a 24 hour day getting hooked on the memes portrayed by dancing peers while their neurons rot.

True, we still lack comprehensive longitudinal research into the phenomenon, but evidence is piling up for the detrimental effects. Especially on regular users, for whom brain development is not yet complete. As my tenured psychology prof niece Shayl  - who has done extensive research into kids and social media – put it:

 It leaves most of the regular users in the 10- 14 age group in a kind of semi-retardation if they are hooked into the app more than four or five hours at a time, each day.  Many end up unable to read even simple classic literature, say like ‘Alice in Wonderland’, or Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue.’  It’s pathetic.  And a lot of this is because their cognitive ability, especially attention span, diminishes to the level of seconds.”

So from her and fellow researchers work, here is why TikTok appears to be the worst social media platform of all.

-  Binging on 15 to 30 second videos lowers attention spans to 15 to 30 seconds each day per effort (e.g. at reading) for time periods lasting more than a few hours. A simple memory test proves this, administered to subjects in the most affected age range (10-14 yrs.).  This entails their being given five words to recall (say: 'friend', worship, postage, warship and lizard') then distracted for ten minutes and asked to repeat them.  Most bingers flop, they just can't do it.

- Short term memory is then also affected say if they have to view longer (non-Tik Tok)  videos, or even short (academic course) video lectures - say as provided by the organic chemistry NYU prof  (Maitland Jones) - to help his students, e.g.

Dismissal Of NYU Professor Maitland Jones Jr. For "Being Too Hard" Was Short Sighted & Unwarranted 

Confirmed Tik Tokkers in his intro Organic Chem class likely found it "too hard" and pushed for his dismissal.  This is because they were neither able to follow the text or his short teaching videos.  As I wrote in the preceding blog post link:

 "As Prof. Jones himself noted in the aftermath, too many students did not avail themselves of the specially prepared organic chem videos he produced or attended tutorial sessions. "

Indeed, this inability to concentrate is widespread.  50% of regular Tik Tok users admit that they found longer videos “stressful”, far less being able to read a book or do homework properly.

 Shayl also observes that Tik Tok is created to be addictive by design using the short video format although now the optimal length of TikTok videos is estimated to fall between 21 and 34 seconds. But according to her:  

"Look, these videos achieve their addiction goals by first being purposely attuned to the users' interests to keep them on the platform as long as possible. Thus, a sorority - say at Auburn or Tulane- may start out by doing a few cutesy videos for fellow 'sisters',  then all of a sudden the virus spreads and all the sororities are hooked and doing Tik Toks.   Second, this platform operates on the principle of random reinforcement - which makes it easier to hook the kids.    especially with user generated content . "

She then emphasizes the constant exposure to the silly vids to keep oneself entertained, leads to total dependence on it to escape boredom. Withdraw the app or access to it and "it has much the same effect as taking away coke from a coke addict."  Th net effect is that such app users are no longer able to entertain themselves so are at risk of chronic boredom.  Shayl adds:

"It's then a small step for just a few of these dancing or other videos to seize the kids' brains and turn them to mush with constant exposure. After all, its preying on the users' need for social voyeurism which is at the root of all social media and why so many are abandoning blogs like yours. 

The posts strain their brains. They are too hard to read and focus on! The content is way too difficult compared to what Tik Tok offersSocial media at large is laying waste to our ever eroding attention with even smaller bits of easier to digest content. With that going on who reads blogs any more? They are so 'yesterday' compared to Tik Tok videos and Instagram!"  

Gee, Shayl, thanks for explaining the decreased reads on Brane Space! Other insights about Tik Tok and its negatives from the Times piece:

·   If you’ve constantly heard TikTok mentioned by your friends (and children) but have been unsure how it works, this latecomer’s guide is for you.

·   The app is known for its viral dance challenges and catchy trends. But its algorithm has been blamed for amplifying misinformation and harmful content.

See Also:

The Teenager Leading the Smartphone Liberation Movement - The New York Times (nytimes.com)


How many hours do you spend on your phone each day? Probably more than you’d like....For the 17-year-old Logan Lane, the solution was to quit cold turkey. Lane grew up in Brooklyn and was a screen-addicted teenager who spent hours curating her social media presence on Instagram and TikTok. Then, a little over two years ago, Lane started questioning whether living a life of constant connection was actually a good thing and made the decision to ditch her smartphone altogether. She began assembling a “Luddite Club” — a group of teenagers who reject technology and its creeping hold on all our lives.


by Laura Flanders | January 26, 2023 - 6:59am | permalink


Twenty-three minutes. That's how long it takes for your brain to refocus after shifting from one task to the next. Check your email, glance at a text, and you'll pay for what's called a "switch cost effect."

"We've fallen for a mass delusion that our brains can multitask. They can't," author Johann Hari found out in researching his latest book. We're paying a price for our stolen ability to focus and maybe that's one of the reasons we're falling for autocrats and punting on solving the world's grievous problems.


Why I Don't Use (or Own) A Cell Phone


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