With vanishing attention spans, how will generation TikTok achieve anything?


Dreams, an inoffensive ditty from Fleetwood Mac’s difficult 11th album, was recorded more than four decades ago but has this month enjoyed a spectacular re-entry into the hit parade, or whatever kids call it these days. In normal circumstances this sort of musical comeback would require the untimely death of an artist, but 2020 is not normal and Stevie Nicks is fine. The reason for the spike is a 20-second video on TikTok.

The video comprises a man going by the handle @420doggface208 longboarding down a freeway while drinking cranberry juice and lip-syncing half a line from the aforementioned ditty. That’s it. There’s no beginning, middle or end, just half an end or quarter of a middle. Frankly, it begs more questions than it answers. Isn’t that a traffic violation? Was that neck tattoo a wise choice? Are we talking urinary tract infection, or does Mr Doggface just like cranberries? I remember that tune — what’s it called agai … Too late.

A thousand billion people were unperturbed by the fleeting nature of the video. Mick Fleetwood, 73, wasn’t perturbed either. He made his own version of the longboard cranberry lip-sync using some sort of age-appropriate Popemobile and a thousand billion people watched that as well. Who cares if this is all completely random and deeply unsatisfying, say TikTok users/kids today. What more do you need? What more do you have time for? This is my problem with TikTok. I don’t particularly mind that the Chinese might know what I had for dinner last night (risotto). I do mind that it makes Twitter’s 280 characters feel like War and Peace.

Which came first — the TikTok chicken or the addled attention-span egg? We don’t have time to work that out. What we can say is that not much can be achieved if minds start to wander after 20 seconds. Sudokus won’t be solved. Books won’t be read. Cancer won’t be cured. Are you still with me? Or have you already turned the pa …

Look, there’s a chimpanzee on a tricycle.

The reductive nature of the internet is permeating wider culture, but it’s noticeable only if you take a step back. Rewind only a few years and a film might start with a slow pan of a city or a bloke longboarding down a freeway for ages. Or pigeons. Today, if something doesn’t blow up in the first 19 seconds, you’ve lost the younger half of your audience. I’m sure I remember Friends being quite pacey. Watching it today, each scene begins like Omar Sharif arriving on a camel. That is to say, slowly. By the time Joey has walked through the door, headed across the coffee shop and taken a seat, your resident teenager will have watched 17 TikToks.

Look, a small man dancing on an escalator.

The irony is that 2020 would be a lot easier if we didn’t consume content like locusts consume crops. During Lockdown Part I, time was one of the few things we had in abundance. I imagine the same will be true for Lockdown Part II: This Time with Bad Weather. We’ll be stuck at home again, scrolling feeds, climbing walls. TikTok is not our pandemic friend. We need things that take time. We need the digital equivalent of a 10,000-piece puzzle. Or, indeed, a real 10,000-piece puzzle. Or a whole Sunday afternoon curled up with a book. I wish my kids would spend even part of a whole Sunday afternoon curled up with a book.

Go on kids, curl up with a book.

I’m bored.

Give it a bit longer.

I’m dying.

Fine, let’s try 2001: A Space Odyssey.

You might have seen videos (possibly on TikTok) of toddlers trying to scroll various inanimate objects — books, televisions, house plants. You might also have seen images of how some evolutionary biologists think our hands might look in the future. Index fingers with pointed ends. Thumbs with six-packs. Little fingers off with the dodos. All this is disturbing. All this is the fault of the thousand billion people who found Fleetwood Mac via a man on a longboard drinking cranberry juice. And all the music executives who are now insisting that tracks should have a 20-second “TikTok edit”.

But don’t worry. I have a solution. Here’s how we can make things bett …

Look, a dog sneezing.

Written by: Matt Rudd
© The Times of London

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