TikTok & Attention Spans
BY ISABELLA HILL '25
I bet you won’t be able to make it to the end of this article. Chances are, you’ll tap a notification, or you’ll text your friends back, or maybe you’ll even start to do some homework. Either way, by becoming preoccupied, you fall victim to your limited attention span. Globally, unprecedented numbers of people are unable to concentrate, unable to experience the “little joys” of life, and unable to sit still. Well, it makes sense. With the rise of social media platforms like TikTok, we become accustomed to constant excitement and more irritated by day-to-day tasks, what we now consider to be mundane.
But is it really possible for our attention spans to decline over the span of a generation? Well, Dr. Gloria Mark, in her book, Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity, explains the correlation between social media and our ability to focus: “In 2004, we measured the average attention on a screen to be 2½ minutes…some years later, we found attention spans to be about 75 seconds. Now [in 2023] we find people can only pay attention to one screen for an average of 47 seconds.” It seems like the answer to our question above is a resounding yes (but do you remember the question?). Created in 2016, TikTok rapidly grew due to its uniquely curated algorithm and never-ending feed of primarily fifteen second videos. Oftentimes, TikTok users decide upon first glance whether or not they deem the video worth watching all the way through and either skip to the end of the video or scroll past the TikTok entirely. The problem: TikTok videos are short. Demonstrated through our inability to sit through fifteen second videos, the app ultimately fuels our need for instant gratification and therefore reduces attention spans.
When unable to dedicate undivided attention, we convince ourselves that multitasking is the most efficient way to work. After all, we want to save time and prove that we can work smarter, not harder. However, Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials writes, “When we think we're multitasking, most often we aren't really doing two things at once…instead, we're doing individual actions in rapid succession, or task-switching…one study found that just 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively.” When multitasking, we increase our stress levels and are more likely to experience burnout or feeling overwhelmed. Moreover, toggling between TikTok and work leads to distractions and less productivity. According to CNN, “It takes 25 minutes, 26 seconds, before we go back to the original working sphere or project [if distracted].” Ultimately, due to TikTok’s highly addictive nature, we should try not to mix the app with daily tasks.
On average, Americans spend ten hours a day using technology. This number grows each year, and with it, a decrease in our attention spans. However, these effects are reversible! To grow your attention span, set screen time limits or enable downtime to shut off apps after a certain time. This method allows for continued use while also maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Additionally, you can hide apps to reduce the amount of times you click on them. Sure, you can still search for the app, but not seeing it when you open your phone can reduce how often you’re reminded of its addictive content. Plus, you could also implement meditating, reading, exercising, and going outside, as outlined in an article from The School of Business at The George Washington University. These activities act as a substitute for social media, boost serotonin, and increase attention. Ultimately, none of those tips work if your phone is next to you, constantly buzzing.
Congrats if you made it to the end of this article! To continue this upward trajectory in your journey to regain and grow your attention span, I suggest that you reduce your daily TikTok intake and do more beneficial, non-chronically-online activities.