College Students Need a Detox from TikTok

Students working in cafe

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.