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How much TikTok is too much TikTok?

the unlicensed ethicist

Dear Unlicensed Ethicist:  Trapped in quarantine, I’ve resorted to making chalk marks on my wall, as if I’m a political prisoner. As my brain cells waste away, I have one last burning question: Is there any such thing as too much TikTok?

Dear Devoted Reader,

So you’ve regressed into a vegetative state watching TikTok in bed as you pretend not to hear your mother calling. Two competing options present themselves: answer or continue to feign sleep. Choosing the latter, you try to convince yourself that you really don’t hear her. Self-delusion is a simple but dangerous game.

Mom is not playing along. As she ratchets up the volume with each successive call of your name, plausible deniability is stripped away. You finally answer, grudgingly of course. No, you don’t want to go on a walk around the block. And no, you don’t want to take a whack at the new 3D puzzle she just ordered on Amazon.

Sound familiar? No matter how hard we try to be civil and companionable, some days in quarantine are harder than others. Nobody can be on their best behavior all the time, especially not while cooped up in a childhood bedroom. At this hour, your Duke calendar typically has you scheduled for people-watching on the BC plaza.

There’s nothing like “sheltering in place” to lend perspective. Things that previously would have been mind-numbingly boring suddenly seem appealing. If you could just get back to campus, you’d be happy to wait in the long line at Il Forno, even as seven pastas are prepared ahead of yours. You could find joy riding the C1 at peak time, despite a classmate’s backpack digging into your rib cage. You could even tolerate strolling through East Campus, averting your eyes from the cloying smiles of freshmen.

Alas, the screen time settings on your iPhone reveal a distasteful truth about where you’ve been spending the prime days of your youth. So, you ask, how much TikTok is too much TikTok? 

It’s a matter of personal taste. Do you want to torture your family a lot or just a little? Imagine Dad’s shock when your “throwing it back” gets 10,000 likes. Mom’s liable to believe this is how you pass all your time at Duke.

Nobody would begrudge you for scrolling through TikTok while waiting for the dentist. Or while circling the airport in a holding pattern, with laptop stowed and tray tables securely fastened in their upright position. But this is not a plane; it’s a pandemic that won’t be reaching its final destination any time soon.

For the first few days of any contagion, endless TikTok is fair game. You might even get a pass for reading every last story on Daily Mail. Who can resist such alluring clickbait: “Baby’s First Pandemic” or “No Treadmill? No problem!” But when it turns out that life is on hold not just for hours, but for weeks or even months, a different course of action is required.

Get a life. Instead of posting motivational quotes on your Instagram story, practice what you preach. Pick up a book, pick up a sponge, or find some other way to be productive. 

I’m not saying you need to reenact a SoulCycle class in the middle of your living room floor. And believe me, this is not the time to learn a musical instrument—if you have any doubts, just ask your siblings or neighbors.

Go ahead and play the drama queen who counts days of confinement with hash marks on the bedroom wall, but at least be a good cellmate. Be thankful that you have a bed and that someone is calling your name to cheer you up. Spread the kindness. And if that kindness must take the form of a TikTok, it better make the #fyp page.

Lena Yannella is a Trinity sophomore. Her column, the unlicensed ethicist, usually runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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