Why I’m optimistic now

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News of the “unprecedented” challenges facing humanity seems to increase every day, but lately, something has given me renewed hope about our collective future. Its name is TikTok. Yes, I’m talking about the fastest-growing social media app in the world and the platform that regularly provides a home to competitions like this:

Full disclosure: I should probably be embarrassed about the amount of time I’ve spent watching those particular videos, but

I 👏 AM 👏 NOT 👏

A little about TikTok:

  • In January 2021 alone, there were over 62 million downloads. 

  • It’s been downloaded over 2.6 billion times worldwide. 

  • In Q1 of 2020, the app had 315 million downloads, the most for a social media app in one quarter ever. 500 million came from India, 180 million from China, and 130 from the U.S. 63% of TikTok users are members of Generation Z

  • The short-form video streaming and sharing app is now available in over 150 countries. 

Speaking of Gen Z, they:

  • were born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, meaning the oldest are 19-24 years old
  • comprise more than a third of the world’s population, making them the largest living generation (yep, bigger than Millennials)
  • are a quarter of U.S. residents
  • are also the most diverse generation in history (yep, more diverse than Millennials)

Gen Z and TikTok are intersecting in some very interesting ways, and the outcomes of that intersection are giving me a lot of hope right now. The unprecedented challenges I referenced at the start of this post are being addressed on TikTok, especially by Gen Z in ways that are smart, inclusive and creative. And other generations are noticing and joining these conversations. 

All of this may sound unlikely, and I’ll explain what I mean, but first consider what some of those challenges are:

Empathy is in short supply 

This really shouldn’t be the case, given that scientists have proven that humans are literally wired for reflecting the feelings of others via our “mirror neurons.” Our brains are built to not only understand but actually experience, or mirror, the feelings of others. Yet it is widely acknowledged that society is suffering an empathy deficit. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of seventy-two studies conducted between 1979 and 2009 found that the empathy levels of American college students have dropped 40 percent. (I should acknowledge some irony here – the study’s authors attributed the drop in empathy to the rise of social media. That said, I still think something wonderful is happening in regard to empathy on TikTok, which I’ll talk about in a moment.)

Mental illness among the young is increasing

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), more than nine in 10 Gen Z adults said they have experienced at least one physical or emotional symptom because of stress, such as feeling depressed or lacking energy or motivation. The source of their distress? THE WORLD. Things like personal debt, housing instability, food insecurity, treatment of immigrants, mass shootings, sexual harassment, assault, and so much more. In addition, the APA’s Stress in America survey revealed that Americans were under greater stress in 2020 than in previous years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Gen Z teens and young adults have been particularly affected. 

More distressing, the American Psychiatric Association says that more than half of people with mental illness don’t receive help for their disorders, and people often avoid treatment due to concerns about being treated differently or unfairly. In other words, they fear being stigmatized.

Isolation and loneliness are widespread

This is a time of extreme division, causing many to feel isolated and alone. Last year, the Cigna 2020 Loneliness Index, which is based on a questionnaire answered by more than 10,000 people, found that Millennials and Generation Z are lonelier than older generations. In the survey, 61% reported feeling lonely, which was a seven-percentage point increase from just two years ago.

Those are obviously some very daunting challenges, but let’s turn the page. 

Remember I said that Gen Z, the world’s largest, most diverse generation (the majority of our planet’s population) is using the fastest-growing social media app (downloaded 2.6 billion times globally) to combat some of these big challenges in very interesting ways? Here’s what’s that looks like:

Gen Z has made TikTok about relatability

More than ever, humans need to climb over barriers and connect with each other authentically, and TikTok provides a platform for doing that. A massive community has convened there to tell raw, unfiltered, vulnerable stories to their peers. For example, consider this compilation of videos about living with Tourettes Syndrome, or this compilation about mental health, or posts that talk about things like the impact of generational poverty on a person’s life.

They’re empathetic, practical and relatable.

TikTok videos = simple but nuanced 

TikTokkers rely heavily on metaphors, similes, symbols, and comparisons to tell their stories, which makes them easily understood and increases their relatability. This type of figurative language is a sophisticated way of communicating because it engages viewers’ emotions through the use of abstract and complex concepts. On TikTok, the results are often absurd and really funny, and because they frequently focus on common experiences, they have an almost universal appeal, like this guy who posts a lot about being the host of a Zoom meeting.

There are numerous other accounts that focus on the challenges and frustrations of thriving at work, like this. Not surprisingly, a lot of attention is paid to human resource departments. ‘Laura from HR’ is one of my favorites, as are Corporate Natalie and HR Manifesto.

Sometimes, the style of a particular video will be so appreciated by the TikTok community that it gets replicated, similar to the ‘Poof be gone’ compilation I shared at the beginning of this post. One of my recent favorites is people recapping bad decisions or mistakes as if they are in a post-event press conference.

Other times, there’s just a je ne sais quoi of absurdity that is addictive. (I’m not the only one who can’t stop watching Monika’s videos, by the way. She has 1.7 million likes!)

Relatability, empathy, open conversations about topics that have been wrongfully treated as if they’re shameful. All of this is happening on TikTok at a large scale, and I think it’s saying something positive about where our human collective is headed. 

P.S. If you do nothing else on TikTok, check out Caitlin Reilly and Jax

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