Pandora's Success: Scrolling Ourselves to Death

Image of Long Story Short Award - 2022
Image of Creative Nonfiction
Tick tock.

1:00 am.

Lights out. Billboards dimmed. Traffic slept.

I walked out of the office, came home, and sneaked into my mother's bedroom intending to
kiss her good night after an extremely long day stuffed with work.

The room was dark with no surprises. But a glimmer of light cast on her wrinkled smiling face and reflected through her presbyopia.

She's still awake, like any of us, with her phone.

Music and laughter. She's scrolling on TikTok.

I bent to kiss her.

"Leave me alone." She whispered.

From the day when my middle-age relatives drop me funny short videos on Wechat, when I became the one to tell my parents "Put down your phone and eat!", I realize that short videos, or let's make it more specific, TikTok, has achieved phenomenal success in this chaotic-buzzy-restless society. We witness this non-stop amusing power transcends ages and gender, spreads from China to abroad, reaches various values, attitudes and beliefs like a Loki, a trickster in myth disguised in variations. Within just a few short years, Tik Tok overtakes YouTube in average watch time respectively in the UK and US, not to mention it has been converging over 500 million active users per month in mainland China.

That is a genuine intercultural communication success.

---Sender-message-receiver, all labelled "OURSELVES"---

In this 1-minute-fingertip-spell, we are all senders as well as receivers. Everyone gets a bit of themselves from this vast converging pool. It delivers one constant subtext message: You are what you watch.

When you are the sender, you tend to read the atmosphere and figure out what's been popular around these days. You collaborate those fads with your talent to generate instant contents with the wish to grab attention plus admiration and ultimately to distinguish yourself. The programmed system will automatically push it under the nose of someone who shares similar interests with you. "In the future,everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." 50 years ago, Andy Warhol gave the world his acute prediction. Now that future is just within a blink in seconds.

Or more usually, you are the receiver. Every topic you tap, every concentration span is leaving traces to label you then come back with more. By scrolling and tapping, we are imperceivably made to be surrounded by our habits, interests and concerns, settled and relaxed, like a silkworm weaving its cave.

Thus, a self-sufficient content system among various cultures has been set up upon one universal truth: We, as human beings, are most interested in ourselves.

Featuring decentralization as its mechanism, TikTok has displayed effective cultural intelligence in two significant perspectives: knowledge and empathy.

---The knowledge. The wicked knowledge---

Firstly, it is the knowledge of information presentation. Video, as an image medium, is essentially a kind of entertainment. Going from text to short-form video, it seems to be a process of raising dimensionality. In fact, it is dimensionality reduction. Given the same time span, the information we obtain becomes less and it is fragmented. The overwhelming motion images as well as background music numb our instant thinking ability and make us keep watching incautiously. While we are immersing into the sensation they render, they are covering up the defects in logic and scripts.

Secondly, it is the knowledge of addiction. The maximum 1-minute length means that we can reach brain pleasure seduced by dopamine every 1 minute, 1 scroll. That's how they nurture our addiction then call us the most easily bored generation in history. While we are scrolling up and down, chasing for superficial enjoyment under the excuse of taking breaks, we are like puppies in Pavlov's laboratory.

The magic works on the knowledge of humanity flaws like the pandora box. Attention merchants create the whole ecosystem of monetizing attention and name it "Attention Economy" in an upright manner. They put their model into the market. They nurture us-their audience's habit and interest. They call it our "creativity" and "joy".

---Empathy, the most sophisticated mask---

While putting oneself in the shoes of others is never easy, putting oneself in the shoes of their own couldn't be easier.

Here in this case, empathy can be interpreted as resonance. Girls and boys sharing tips about make-up or gyms, stupid but brainwashing dancing in bedroom or in office, a 30-second cut to go through a movie...these materials are all from everyone ordinary life. Senders repackage them as jokes, plots, monologue comic talks, and receivers take them and yell "You really got me!".

The algorithm really captures and makes use of how slash we are today. One can be a college student, a dancer, a beauty blogger and an ACG amateur at the same time. Even if people come from different nations or cultural backgrounds, they more or less have something in common. An algorithm will dig it out and group them together under the same labels.

Algorithm, content; algorithm, interest label; algorithm, exposure and views. Then,
every view, like and interaction, every laugh, shock and touch stirred up by resonance all turn into bytes composing the "dance" of capital like water drops running into the sea.

"Silly thing."You might watch and comment,then you keep on scrolling to another one's daily life. That's how the most sophisticated mask disguises in silliness.

"Take a holiday from reality whenever you like, and come back without so much as a headache or a mythology." (Huxley, Brave New World)


2:30 a.m.

I threw myself to bed, finally. Another day.

It had been a dreadfully long day rushing everything for a TikTok promotion proposal.

Even getting sick of that logo, I still tap it on unconsciously. The feeling of drowning into the flow of meaningless jokes, plots and performances is like a toxic salvation, a void escape, a pointless breath.

We are so aware of it.
We are still so addicted to it.

In the pursuit of profit, power, and stakes, we are exploited once like a restless hamster;
In the pursuit of even greater profit, power and stakes, we are exploited twice in tittytainment.

TikTok won't ruin our new generation, nor will Wuxia fictions, E-games, or the Internet. The terrible thing about entertainment is not in entertainment itself, but in people's gradual loss of the ability to think in depth and make rational judgments of our own.

After all, we fear those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism;
We fear the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance;
We fear that what we love will ruin us, successfully.