I gave up my TikTok addiction for a month, and my life is so much better

Phones with the TikTok logo against an orange background
(Image credit: Anna Markina via Shutterstock)

The moment I realized I might have a small TikTok problem was when I dropped my phone into the (very full) sink while trying to watch videos and brush my teeth. I know, sad.

My plan was to balance my phone against the mirror and then scroll with my free hand, which in hindsight was a very dumb plan (auto-scroll feature for TikTok, please?). It was right around that moment, mouth full of toothpaste, frantically trying to dry my phone off that I decided I had to do something about the very real problem I’d found myself deep in.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of TikTok and have at least a vague idea of what it is. You might even have a TikTok account and, like me, spend a good deal of time on the app scrolling away for a laugh or a fun Reddit story voiced by a robot over footage of someone playing Minecraft or Subway Surfers. You’ve probably seen slightly out-of-date TikToks pop up on Instagram Reels or Youtube Shorts.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been on TikTok since 2018, back when you didn’t actually tell anyone you were on TikTok. Thankfully I’ve never made any TikTok videos myself; I just keep a load of drafts of me trying out silly filters with friends. But the bottom line is that I’ve been a user for a very long time, long enough to have seen trends and influencers rise and fall, and have an acute, almost cringe-level memory of all the trending ‘sounds’ (what music or verbal audio clips are called on the app) becoming a veteran of some kind.

Now you're speaking my language 

It was the wild west back then, with a much smaller user base and a lot fewer ‘rules’. It became a lot more popular towards the end of 2018, but then the pandemic hit, and boom. The app exploded, and now everyone and their mom is on TikTok. The beginning of a whole new macrocosm of the internet was born - and with it came a new language, a new way of thinking, and the largest hive mind I’ve ever personally encountered.

Soon everyone knew what I was talking about; we were all talking about the same videos or trends or sounds, and once we were put in lockdown young people used TikTok to stay connected. It felt like a place just for ourselves, a virtual playground where you could spend hours connecting with people just like you.

Much like Vine before it, shorter videos meant you could consume a lot more at once. You never got bored, and if you did you could simply scroll down to the next one, and the next, and then your entire afternoon was suddenly gone.

I think the main reason TikTok has become the giant it is now is because it’s a massive time hole. Every single time I sat down to use the app ‘for a few minutes’ I would look up and an entire hour or so had just flashed past. And you don’t even remember what you’ve seen! It’s not like a video essay on Youtube, for example, because you’ve retained that information. After an hour on TikTok, you’ll never remember the first Tiktok you saw.

That’s not even to mention the fact that TikTok creates a whole new way of speaking. I have two different modes of conversation now: dialogue for people who use TikTok and for those that don’t. When I’m speaking to people my age, we have access to years of never-ending and ever-changing in-jokes - we quote snippets of sounds that match the tone or topic of conversation, we quote repeated meme comments left on TikToks, and we make references that are the equivalent of whole conversations. So when I decided to detox, I was worried I’d miss out so much and ‘fall behind’. 

Doenloading tiktok

(Image credit: Ilina Yuliia via Shutterstock)

Detoxing or detok-ing?

I’ve talked previously about how I’ve been using my iPhone's Focus Mode to help me get off my phone and trading my phone camera for an old-school Kodak - and it was a repeated theme how much closer I feel to reality.

I didn’t go completely cold turkey with my TikTok detox; rather, I set a daily timer on my phone which locks TikTok after an hour of use. This meant I could maybe watch for half an hour in the morning, and half an hour at night, or more frequently just have some downtime before bed and ‘spend’ my full hour’s allowance in one mindless, blissful burst of content. 

I’ll be honest: at first, it absolutely sucked. You’ve got to understand that I’d been throwing away 12 hours a day on this app for a whole year in lockdown. The combination of not sleeping enough and taking lazy weekends really upped those numbers. I felt like I had no idea what to do with myself.  Even post-lockdown, I would typically come home from work, decompress by spending a ‘little while’ on TikTok and then get on with life having wasted a good two hours of my evening. 

But now, I have so much time. Only having an hour meant I couldn’t just pull it up while I was waiting for the bus or standing in front of the microwave. I have to make the most of it. And to be honest this mindset helped curbed the habit a lot. Addiction is definitely not something to be taken lightly, but as a smoker, I can say I felt addicted to that wretched app and stopping was genuinely hard.

I got used to having some time back and started developing far better routines, going to bed earlier and, to be honest, feeling a lot less depressed. I didn’t have a constant stream of information beamed straight from my phone screen through my eyeballs and into my brain; no more consistently terrible world news or just bad vibes.

Young people have started ’de-influencing’ trends on TikTok that shed a light on the kind of hive-mind consumerism that can occur in some spheres of the app’s community, and I’m happy to see other people are exercising more agency and taking control of what impacts how they spend their time and money.

Overall, cutting off my copious scrolling was hard but very much necessary. I think when you’re in a vacuum of friends that consume just as much (if not more) of the same drip-fed content, it can feel unnecessary to try and curb the habit. But I’m much happier for it, and I enjoy the downtime I do have when I am on the app.

While older social media platforms (and other media, such as video games) have managed to dig their claws into entire generations as TikTok has, this time around feels particularly insidious - especially with its dominating precedence during the pandemic. A lot of users experience chronic scrolling and information overload, and if you find yourself in a similar place to what I’ve described - like dropping your phone in the sink - maybe give the detox a go.

Muskaan Saxena
Computing Staff Writer

Muskaan is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing writer. She has always been a passionate writer and has had her creative work published in several literary journals and magazines. Her debut into the writing world was a poem published in The Times of Zambia, on the subject of sunflowers and the insignificance of human existence in comparison. Growing up in Zambia, Muskaan was fascinated with technology, especially computers, and she's joined TechRadar to write about the latest GPUs, laptops and recently anything AI related. If you've got questions, moral concerns or just an interest in anything ChatGPT or general AI, you're in the right place. Muskaan also somehow managed to install a game on her work MacBook's Touch Bar, without the IT department finding out (yet).