I’ll admit it — I suffer from FOMO when it comes to my kids. My “fear of missing out” has caused me to engage in behaviors that are desperate, annoying and often unbecoming of a mother and military spouse. Which explains why I downloaded TikTok this week.
“You posted another TikTok? What’s this one about? Will you show me? Will you play it again?” I’d been nagging our daughter, Anna, for three months, because I didn’t have the wildly popular app on my battered, excruciatingly slow Samsung Galaxy 7 Smartphone. Hardly anyone my age uses TikTok, but as the clock ticked on the 45-day divestment deadline imposed against TikTok parent ByteDance by President Trump this month, I knew I had to act or miss my opportunity forever.
As a 2020 recent fashion design graduate, Anna had to put her dreams of working as a fashion designer aside after the retail industry shut down due to coronavirus. While at home, our resourceful and hardworking military child has been creating her own brand of upcycled clothing, promoting her designs on Instagram, DePop, Triller and TikTok. Recently, two of her videos went viral, garnering about a million views each.
Anna is far from becoming a “mega-influencer” — content creators with more than a million regular followers, who can get paid more than $10,000 per post by brands, musicians and the video apps themselves. In fact, Anna isn’t even considered a “micro-influencer” yet, which requires at least 50,000 followers. It’s worth trying, though, because in July, TikTok established a $200 million fund to pay influencers, and plans to increase that to $1 billion over the next three years. I am Anna’s number one fan, cheering like a lunatic mom from the sidelines as I’ve done for years, “Go, Anna! That’s my girl! She’s a star! Brownies, anyone?”
Yesterday, I poked “Install TikTok” on my phone’s scratched screen, knowing full well the risk that my data could be shared with the Chinese government. This shows how serious my case of FOMO had become — normally, I would overthink the decision and eventually become paralyzed with fear.
Not this time. Other than fleeting panic that Chinese operatives might discover my compulsive ceramic Christmas tree purchasing history on eBay, I didn’t give it much thought. The security risk TikTok poses is concerning — in January, U.S. military branches banned the app on government-issued phones and discouraged military members from downloading it to their personal phones — but missing out seemed like a bigger threat in the moment. After creating a username and password, the app’s iconic music note appeared on my screen. I opened it without hesitation, and in an instant was whisked off to an unknown new world.
Two hours later, I dragged myself away. In that warped time period, I had not only become a new follower of Anna’s TikTok account, watched all of her videos twice, liked them all, and commented on a few — I also fell prey to TikTok’s unique algorithms, intended to suck consumers into a vortex of continuously streamed video entertainment. Before I knew it, I’d been served a strangely addictive mix of visual snippets — cats dancing hip-hop, people baking something called “cloud bread,” teenagers lip-syncing to disturbingly profane lyrics, and babies being naturally adorable. I laughed, I cringed, I gasped, I swiped and swiped and swiped.
Apparently, TikTok’s genius coders solved the “paradox of choice” problem when they designed the app five years ago. Other apps like Triller, YouTube and Instagram Reels require the consumer to search and self-select videos, but TikTok’s algorithms generate a “For You Page” featuring a never-ending stream of content tailored to each user’s unique interests and habits. All I had to do was sit back and swipe.
I’ll never get those two hours of my life back, but during my TikTok hiatus from reality, I finally learned that, other than my daughter’s fashion design videos, I haven’t been missing out on all that much. The Chinese government may now own my social security number, but at least they’ve helped me cure my FOMO.