Students work in the cafe at the library on UConn’s Storrs campus — many, looking at their phones. (Mackenzie Campbell/UConn Journalism)
By Mackenzie Campbell | UConn Journalism
May 6, 2023
On a sunny afternoon at the University of Connecticut, students hunkered down with their laptops and books at the Homer Babbidge Library. In the library’s Bookworm Cafe, many students were on their phones, ignoring their work. Focused intently on his laptop among them was Ohm Ghutadaria, a junior majoring in neurobiology, who recently deleted TikTok from his phone. Ghutadaria is one of many students who have noticed TikTok’s effect on their daily life.
“I felt it was changing the perspective of what I thought I was supposed to be. I don’t know it felt like my mental [health] was getting clouded by this fabricated reality of what a guy should be like — the way I should dress or how I should perceive myself in a way,” Ghutadaria said with his phone resting face down next to his computer. “And my girlfriend thought I was wasting too much time, which I was, because I would [spend] like six hours on it.”
A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators announced a new bipartisan bill in early March that would give the U.S. government the power to ban TikTok. This bill was introduced because of concerns over national data security and other arguments, according to a press release on the bill. Lawmakers are worried about the power the app holds over American citizens and the negative impact it has on the mental health of children, according to Reuters.
During the TikTok hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said, “This hearing also should serve as a call to action for the Congress to act now to protect Americans from surveillance, tracking, personal data gathering, and addictive algorithmic operations that serve up harmful content and have a corrosive effect on our kids’ mental and physical well being.”
Many studies have been published about the spike of TikTok usage during the pandemic and after. In 2022, TikTok kept its standing as the most downloaded app, reaching 672 million downloads globally, according to Forbes. A study conducted by Bridgewater State University found that TikTok has inhibited the level of focus on schoolwork in college students ages 18 through 28. The study concluded that there was a significant correlation between participants frequently using TikTok and a high level of distraction in life, specifically during class and schoolwork.
Dishita Chauhan, a senior majoring in biology, sat at a high-top bar table in the corner of the Bookworm Cafe in the library with her feet up on the next chair, scrolling through her phone as her laptop full of notes sat in front of her.
“It does affect my focus. I have a shorter attention span than I used to. It’s gotten pretty bad,” Chauhan said about her TikTok usage.
She noticed her time on TikTok was a lot, about five hours in a day. If her phone is next to her, you can bet she is checking it for more videos trending on her feed. She manages to study for her exams and complete challenging school work by avoiding her phone.
“I try to put my phone across the room and literally get focused,” Chauhan said.
This mindless scrolling through random videos for hours is a phenomenon that people are noticing has been affecting their lives. According to NBC News, “Corecore” is a new popular TikTok aesthetic that is taking over the app. Corecore means “Kind of a deconstructed art. Basically invoking emotion out of a series of visual clips that you develop your own meaning to,” according to Urban Dictionary. This new trend keeps viewers hooked on their phone, not even realizing the hours passing by. Realization of the trend has resulted in a mass deletion by users on March 3, according to an article by The Tab. Videos circulated TikTok under hashtags such as, “hopecore” and “quittiktok3rd” encouraging people to delete the app.
Gen‑Z is smack dab in the middle of this widespread phenomenon and college students all over are catching on to it.
TikTok, along with other social media, creates instant gratification for its users, resulting in dopamine rushes after every swipe, according to an editorial released by The Queen’s University Journal. Along with many other forms of addiction, once you start it’s hard to stop, and TikTok may just be the new drug of choice for most college students.
However, not everyone feels as though TikTok interferes with their life. Phoebe Thompson, a sophomore studying music education, had a different perspective on TikTok and its effects. She only uses the app in bed when she is not preoccupied with her daily life. She explained that during the pandemic, her usage of the app spiked as did most others, yet during the semester she won’t use it as much. She also mentioned that her focus has remained the same despite using TikTok.
“It’s usually at like morning or night; it’s not a primary distractor. I don’t know, it kind of brings me back down to earth sometimes I guess,” Thompson said. “It’s never been like a big problem.”
Thompson compared the platform to being similar to Reddit in the sense that you can see real people’s stories. She’s never had TikTok interfere with her work or life schedule and finds it to be a relaxing break at the end of the day.
“In terms of mental health, it’s actually kind of cool because I can, if I’m having a specific kind of problem I can literally look it up and like a bunch of other people have had the same experience,” Thompson said.
Universities in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, and Texas, have started banning TikTok on the universities’ Wifi, according to Best Colleges. Although UConn has not made any movements toward their own ban on the app, many students have chosen mental health over TikTok.
Ghutadaria noticed how much better he feels without scrolling through mindless videos on TikTok encouraging his procrastination and stands by his choice to delete the app.
“I don’t see that dumb, that negative, toxic media. I feel more myself. I feel peaceful I guess,” Ghutadaria said.