How TikTok Has Shortened the Attention Span of Millions


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The popular social media app, TikTok, has been downloaded over 3 billion times.

The extremely popular social media app, TikTok, has become one of the most used social media apps amassing over one billion users. To many people’s surprise, however, it was not always known as TikTok. TikTok was formerly known as, which was released in April of 2014 and was an app where users could create and share short, lip-sync videos. Since it quickly became a success, the Chinese internet technology company Bytedance purchased it for a billion dollars and changed into TikTok in September 2017.

Bytedance kept most of’s features the same for TikTok and just improved upon them. TikTok’s success came gradually at first, since most of its users were previous users; however, during the summer of 2019 more people started to download the app since they had seen how easy it was to upload a 15-30 second video and go viral. 

This upward trend continued throughout all of 2019, and it skyrocketed during March 2020 since everyone was stuck at home with nothing to do during the Covid pandemic. Over two billion people downloaded the app during the pandemic, and it became one of the biggest ways people stayed in touch with each other. Since the videos on TikTok were usually only 15-30 seconds long, it captured viewers’ attention much more quickly than a 15 minute YouTube video would. 

Since people were stuck at home with nothing else to distract them, they chose to go on TikTok because the videos were shorter and easier to watch than videos on YouTube which were at least 10 minutes long. This pattern led people to go on an “endless scroll” which is when people will mindlessly scroll through the millions of videos on their “For You Page,” not realizing how much time has passed.

With more and more people becoming used to getting so much information in such a short period of time, it was only a matter of time before it started to affect their attention spans. Many other social media platforms noticed this change as well and started adapting their platforms to be the same way so that more of their users would still use their app and not just stay on TikTok. YouTube implemented a different section on their app called “YouTube Shorts” which allowed creators to post shorter 30 second clips of highlights from their videos to attract their users back to their platform since not many people were watching 15 minute videos anymore.

Since so many kids and teenagers passed their time watching TikTok during the pandemic, they started to have a tough time readjusting to school when they reopened. Many teachers were surprised to find that so many students had a much harder time focusing for longer periods of time than they were before the pandemic. Kids and teenagers were used to having large amounts of information told to them through 30 second videos for over a year, so their brain had lost its ability to focus for a longer period of time to absorb information.

In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Denmark, they found that topics would sharply capture widespread attention, but lose it just as quickly. For example, a 2013 Twitter global trend would last 17.5 hours while in 2016 the same type of a trend would last for only 11.9 hours and has continued to decline throughout the years. 

Junior Arineh Shahbazi is part of the group of many students who have noticed a decline in their ability to focus on certain tasks because of their use of TikTok every day. “Watching short TikTok videos definitely made my attention span worse, and it has also affected my ability to focus in school. Since finals are coming up I’m planning to cut back the time I spend on TikTok or just delete the app altogether so that I can more easily focus on the material taught in my classes,” she said.

There are also different types of videos on TikTok that trap viewers into watching them because of how overstimulating they can be. “There are certain types of “storytime” style videos that always have a game or cooking video playing in the background to keep the viewer busy while listening to the story so they don’t scroll. This is because the use of TikTok has shortened our attention spans to such a point where we cannot sit and listen to a 3-10 minute video without watching something else,” Shahbazi said.

Senior David Mumchyan has managed to get a following of over 700,000 followers on TikTok, but with that there have come some challenges. “With people’s attention spans drastically lowering, I had to try my best to adjust to that change and had to shorten my content in order for people to watch my full video,” Mumchyan said.

As the percentage of younger children who download TikTok is going up, there is more of a chance that they will start to lose their attention spans even quicker. One of the easiest ways to limit the usage of TikTok is to put a timer on the app that will shut it down once the time limit has been reached. Another way is to keep busy with other hobbies to not fall into the habit of mindlessly scrolling everyday and limiting the brain’s attention span in the proces