TikTok: Time Doesn’t Stop…

When I first discovered this thing called TikTok, my mind began to close over. I’m not sure if I was initially told about it by someone, or if I saw some of its 15 second creations shared on a different social media platform, but I do recall having a feeling that was the equivalent of Oh, do I seriously need to look into this now?!?’

Photo by Tom Sodoge on Unsplash.jpg
Photo by Tom Sodoge on Unsplash (free use)

After I calmed down and downloaded this seemingly bizarre new micro video app, I was suddenly getting notifications twice-daily for videos made for the most part 15-16 year-old girls. They were lip-syncing the words to popular music or dancing to tracks far different than the ones I grew up listening (and badly singing) to in the 1990s. I’m sure on at least one occasion I subconsciously thought, in the tradition of the Lethal Weapon movies, ‘I’m too old for this…’ (and if you don’t get that cultural reference, it probably proves my point!)

There was a cynical part of me telling the more adventurous side that I would probably never make a TikTok; that I would never have to. Why would I? I’m already on a bunch of other platforms! What possible use on planet Earth would a teacher find in using TikTok? Who cares if it’s currently taking the world by storm – it’ll no doubt come and go as all things do…

But then last week I was getting Twitter messages from my colleague Emily Wade about the great turnout she was getting in her Geelong classes. With an assignment deadline looming at 11.59pm that night, I knew I might not have a large crowd of students swarming into the afternoon’s seminar. So I headed to the room 10 minutes early to make a TikTok…

Learning by Doing

Just like the growing phenomenon of live broadcasting, this looks like a pretty spontaneous example of ‘in the moment’ (if not entirely live) media. I had a broad/vague idea of what I wanted to do going into the room, yet when I opened the app for the first time, attached the music track I wanted, and quickly chose a filter (literally the first one I saw!), the learning process had only just begun. This video took upwards of ten takes to get right, all the while with a group of students in the next room able to hear some strange person playing the music from Annie over and over and over again through a flimsy partition wall…

The trickiest part of this process was mastering the filter, which required me to blink my eyes when I wanted the cloudy, obscured visual to clear the way to its fairy-tale hue (I know, I’m a little too masculine sometimes…) Now, I’ve used stick-your-tongue-out filters on Snapchat before, but I discovered that blinking at a strategic moment mid-lyric can be one of the most physically counter-intuitive acts to perform. And that’s a key point in itself: despite the TikTok website‘s clever marketing description of ‘Real People. Real Videos’, this is anything but ‘natural’. My first attempt at TikTok (and those that have followed) were entirely staged – albeit perhaps ‘authentic’ – performances, which connects back to an earlier blog I wrote on the subject.

TikTok operates in a similar way to Twitter’s discontinued 6-second, looping micro video platform Vine (2013-2016). You could apply most of the points I make in this video I made for students about Vine to the more recent app:

Learning by Undoing… and Doing Again

The rushed nature of my first outing with TikTok meant that I hadn’t properly thought about what I was doing. That first video will forever be credited to the automated profile name of ‘@adambrown93’ – although I’ve since re-posted it on my new @digitalzones account, which I found myself motivated to make within a few hours of posting my first TikTok.

The visage of an empty, newborn account can be an intimidating prospect, but everyone and everything starts somewhere…

TikTok beginnings

The best way to embed the media into a tweet also escaped me at first, though it’s important to note (and this is in no doubt part of the app’s success) that TikTok integrates very well with Instagram. Also worth mentioning is that the first TikTok video I tweeted and shared as a post on my Insta feed received far more engagement (quantitative and qualitative) than any other post I’d shared for at least a month.

Before long, I had received a random request from a student based on a trending song. So I made a second TikTok video, learning how to apply different filters at different times. Then I made a third TikTok, working out how to use and ‘edit together’ multiple piece of footage. Then I made a fourth TikTok, playing around with AR filters and adding hashtags. Then I made a fifth TikTok (below), simply recording some footage and subverting the conventions of TikTok entirely…

You get the idea. The learning never stops.

Even if the singing probably should.

The Neverending Story…

The future implications of TikTok are unknown, but there are many practitioners in diverse fields curious (in a slightly nervous way) about what this new platform means for them – or could mean to them, if they’re wise enough to look into it. Some commentators are writing about how teenagers are using TikTok to promote awareness of climate change or essentially make cinematic Indie films, and organisations are only just beginning to work out what value it might add to their brands. This tweet makes a pretty decent point in itself…

As with IGTV, the content creators themselves are playing a key role in how TikTok’s future is shaped, as well as what it means for online identity construction and emergent narrative forms. It’s also important to remember that just because a platform is (mostly) being used for the purpose to entertain, that doesn’t mean it might not have potential to market products, promote political messages, build organisational brands, raise awareness about specific issues, or even to facilitate student learning.

When I first designed and ran an undergraduate unit called Making Video, Instagram’s standalone-but-integrated IGTV platform came into being. IGTV’s emphasis on vertical video threatened to throw everything we’d been talking about and doing in terms of video-making conventions up into the air with no way of knowing where things would fall down. I’ve just finished teaching the Making Video unit for the second time, and TikTok came along to prompt another revision of learning materials. So I started making and sharing a few TikToks, and the best part was that some students jumped in the deep end as well…

To my surprise – actually, astonishment – it was easier to get more students to make collaborative live video broadcasts with Periscope than it was to embrace the narrative possibilities of TikTok, which was very much out of people’s comfort zones. I’ve continually – and honestly – positioned myself as a late adopter of new technology, but perhaps in the teaching space at least, I’ve caught onto TikTok early. I’ll be behind again in one way or another soon enough, but that’ll just mean I have to keep learning.

When working in the digital arena – a very broad area encapsulating many, many industries – you can’t afford to stand still for long. Take 15 seconds to catch your breath and keep going. The world will be different before you know it. Young people are reminding us of that through their use – their making – of TikTok. And savvy students are noticing too…

Sorry, but I’m not that influential. I don’t even know what this damn app is, to be honest. Not yet anyway…

TikTok. Time doesn’t stop.

You can’t afford to either.

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