It might be time to clock out from Tiktok


Sheoli Lele ‘26 is a prospective math and philosophy double major. She uses her free time to paint, take photos around campus and debate. Contact her at

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. 

It delights and enrages me to know that in the past month, a record number of 10 year olds have called their congresspeople for the first time, solely to whine that they might lose access to one of many sources of mind-numbing videos. Better yet, officials behind TikTok released a message urging its users to do just this, but worded it differently: “protect constitutional rights, make your voices heard.” Something about it feels like the bad influence of an uncle asking a young child to defend him in front of the child’s vigilant parents… but I digress.

For those who haven’t yet heard (in which case I commend you), the enormously popular video-streaming app TikTok may be in jeopardy in the United States. The app was created by the Chinese tech company ByteDance, which has raised concerns about Americans’ data privacy being accessible to the Chinese Communist Party via ByteDance. Poof! Congress introduced a bill that, if passed, would force ByteDance to either sell TikTok within six months to a buyer that the U.S. government approves of or entirely leave the United States. The bill passed seamlessly in the House of Representatives, where it originated, and now awaits approval from a Senate majority vote. If passed, TikTok will likely face a grim challenge: finding a buyer who can afford it, with its 170 million US users. In other words, the very real possibility of a world without TikTok looms ahead.

I risk parroting my parents when I say that this world without TikTok is preferable to the one we live in now. We should approach this possibility not with regret, but with hope, using the very news of the bill to reflect on our relationship with the online world. I hope to gently address those who include TikTok in their “top five best friends” list, and to convince you that if your favorite app disappears permanently, you might not only live on, but also thrive. 

The biggest concern behind the app has to do with data privacy, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use the occasion to reflect on TikTok’s other implications, most notably its effect on attention spans. Countless friends have told me that the intended 15 minutes scrolling on the app too often turn into regrettable hours lost. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying an app’s ability to match users with constantly gratifying videos — the problem lies in its tendency to capture our attention for so long that we feel we’ve lost control over our time. TikTok and its contemporaries not only seem to trap our thoughts in what we now call “mindless scrolling,” but also keep us from focusing on other activities afterward. In my case, which I feel is far from unique, I lose motivation to do even my favorite things in the chunk of time following the scrolling. 

It’s glaringly possible that the “void” TikTok leaves, if the bill is passed, will quickly be filled by one of its less-popular contemporaries: Instagram Reels and Youtube Shorts. Before you sigh with relief knowing the internet will continue to support your mindless scrolling, I urge you to reflect on your habits, whatever they may be. Use this as a timely opportunity to better delegate your time — there is no need to wait for the bill to pass.

What immediately jumped out to me as interesting about the bill was how bipartisan it was. At least in the House, members of opposing parties who shared only abrasive histories were found joining forces. At least in some capacity, the bringing up of the bill has been a reminder that, despite our party-rooted differences, we share perceptions on certain aspects of culture. If among these things are the newest generation of social media users, then so be it. If TikTok were to be banned from the United States, the passage of the bill would serve as a much-needed reminder of our unity as people, especially in such a polarizing time as an election year. Let’s generalize this to our smaller Williamsburg community.

I would be remiss if I did not admit this at any point in my anti-TikTok preach: Despite being one of the most easily distractible people I can think of, I never have had the app or created an account. I cannot claim personal experience as a source of my worries toward it. All I have to share is a series of friends’ testimonies of the experience being “easy to turn on and impossible to leave off.” While I won’t go so far as to say I have lost friends to the app, I cannot help but notice in many conversations a certain detachment, even in meaningful conversations. I cannot and will not blame the people for it — I blame the tendencies that the app, and many like it, seem to prey on.


  1. Well said! As someone who attended W&M in the ’00s before the invention of smartphones, I am extremely grateful that I DID STUFF IN PERSON — went to concerts and plays and museums, walked around, met and talked to people, read books while sitting on the benches surrounded by flowering trees on either side of the Crim Dell bridge — instead of being glued to addictive technology.

    As a professor now myself at a different university, I am so saddened to see that students, by and large, do not seem to be having anything like the inspiring college experience I had. There are many reasons why that can be so in individual cases (e.g. economic insecurity), but surely one contributing factor is the rampant addiction to smartphones and services like TikTok.

  2. Yeah, the popular TikTok app might be banned in the USA but I think it’s a good thing. People in my area seem to be obsessed with watching “TikToks” and have forgot about actually talking with people rather than being glued to their phone. Sometimes I think technology is more harmful than good.


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