It started in the Spring of 2022. My sons, each old enough for smart phones, were caught up in the latest social media craze: videos on Tik Tok. A parent’s hearing is sharper than a drill sergeant’s, and some of language coming from the videos was saltier than a drill sergeant’s. Therefore, I had to know what my sons were consuming.

I was generally aware of Tik Tok but didn’t know enough to realize I had to set up an account to see what they were viewing or at least make it easier to do so rather than searching by desktop. So I created an account via the app and gave it a name. Without too much thinking I chose the handle “No Spills” (in Tik Tok-ese it would be @NoSpills). This was an inside joke between my sons and me, regarding my fastidiousness around the house—always hyper sensitive about spilled juice or crumbs in the couch.

After perusing some of the videos they were watching and finding them mostly bland, despite the occasional cursing, as a jest, I posted my first piece of content on Tik Tok, which you can see here.

That was April 17, 2022. I shared it on the only other social media site I use regularly, Facebook, and it got a nice response. A few suggested making more. And I did.

Now, more than a year later, I’ve uploaded about 250 videos. At first, I was posting something once a week but then began uploading more frequently. I don’t publish a video every day, but there is a certain pressure that comes with the territory: if you want to be relevant you have to keep offering content. Of course, I’m small potatoes in the Tik Tok universe, but “influencers” or those who make money from posting must keep the ball rolling lest their metrics plummet.

I didn’t really have a goal when I started, and I’m still not sure what it is as I write this. The benchmark most aim for is gaining 1,000 followers because at this point you can “go live.” That is, you can stream whatever is you are doing live and interact with fans and followers. This in turn may earn you more followers, and eventually lead to an income flow. I’ve met only one Tik Toker in person, and she does earn a nice sum every month from the content she posts.

I’m not in it for the money, and after a year-plus of making videos I stand at a modest 400 followers, but there is something about the process I find intriguing, and it certainly tickles my filmmaking bone.

I graduated film school in 1998, and the most I do with filmmaking these days is as a reviewer here on Blast Magazine, but with Tik Tok, instantly, I am my own film studio. One can do this in other forums such as YouTube, but Tik Tok has made it so easy to record and share, it’s not difficult to see why it has become a worldwide hit.

Some people make money. Some gain fame. But the vast majority are showing off a skill or making their voice heard. Henry David Thoreau famously wrote most people (Americans) lead lives of “quiet desperation.” Not anymore. Or at least their desperation isn’t quiet. It’s loud and can be globally shared with just a few clicks.

I can’t possibly detail every category of video on Tik Tok, but there is a lot of what you might expect. Pet videos. Politics. Sports. Clips of movies and TV shows. Stand up comedy. People falling down comedy Celebrity gossip. And on, ad infinitum.

As with any style of media, people can get really inventive. Some of my favorites include a woman who sings famous songs a capella and always off key. A woman with a dog and a cat that play-fight while she narrates. A guy who lost two million dollars he accumulated gambling and day trading now trying to reinvent himself. A man who mows overgrown yards for free. Someone who sets voice and sound of Seinfeld clips to action using Lego facsimiles of the characters and their movements. And on, ad infinitum.

These TikTokers have created unique niches. Their videos and channels might not be as feted as some of the top influencers, but I’m drawn to them because they are clever and authentic.

Contra these channels, there are a million poseurs and click baiters and the downright bizarre stuff you can’t make heads or tails of. Tik Tok does seem to have done a good job of keeping away truly dark material, but then again I don’t seek it out, so it could be there if I cared to dig.

This is not to say, I’m blinkered to Tik Tok’s many problems: I’m fully aware of the pernicious effect it can have on people in a social sense—not to mention the personal and national security risks it poses—but to this point, I have not felt those issues intruding upon my corner of the app.

The most difficult thing I’ve had to face is what to come up with next. There’s only so much you can say about avoiding a spill. I’ve stretched myself to something I dubbed the “no spill philosophy” or the “no spill lifestyle.” Generally speaking, it means being cautious, paying attention to detail, or small tips and hacks that can save you time and aggravation. But even these suggestions have limits. Sometimes I prefer to show off a personal skill like playing a song I learned on the piano or doing a film review.

I never go too far afield or mug for clicks, though I am frequently surprised with how certain videos perform. Oftentimes, I think a particular video won’t have much appeal and it gets many likes, whereas others I’m convinced are gangbusters fall flat.

Much has to do with Tik Tok algorithms and the hashtags one uses. When you post and how much you post can also be factors, and there are Tik Tokers who exist solely to help you become a better Tik Toker. Of course, they want to be paid for advice, and Tik Tok itself can set you up on a budget to earn more likes or followers.

I’ve yet to spend a dime on anything, but if I really want to increase my audience I will have to become sophisticated. This might mean buying a tripod and studying editing and graphic techniques. Presentation means a lot, though being an attractive woman and simply talking to the camera can get you far without having to do much else.

That won’t happen for me, but the ease of making these videos is part of the allure. It can take me all of five minutes to record, edit and post a video. Sometimes I nail it in one take. Other times, when I’ve used props or imported pictures and used overlays, the job can take longer, but in all the videos I’ve made I’d say not one has taken me longer than an hour or two, from set up to post, to produce.

I am not supplementing my efforts by using other social media (Instagram, Snap, Twitter, etc), to make my videos more widely seen, but what I’m doing has not yet risen beyond mere interest in the medium.

TikToking or YouTubing or whatever the next iteration of all this is to be is not a way of life for me, though by posting something almost daily it has, in a way, become a part of my life this past year. If I’m not posting my own content I’m viewing others and commenting on those videos.

Tik Tok knows what you like pretty quickly, which is disturbing for some, and if you are more than a lurker like me–that is, a poster of material—you expose yourself to the world. But in an age where privacy seems impossible to possess, I feel I’m in the same boat as anyone who has any presence on the internet—which is to say, probably half the planet.

Do I risk making myself look silly or like some idiosyncratic, get-off-my-lawn grump? Yes, of course. I’m sure my kids find my videos embarrassing. At first, they were willingly my cameramen, but now I have to twist their arms to get them to participate. In truth, I find it embarrassing myself at times. I often refer to myself in the third-person, as “Mr. No Spills,” and some of the videos are probably less than flattering for a man of 50.

As a writer, in recent years, I’ve published serious essays on sports-related material, and my personal reading tends toward literature. Of late, I have been reading about Concord, Massachusetts and its Transcendental Club. Further away from Tik Tok this could not be, and my aspirations are to write a great, American novel.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the leading lights of the Transcendental movement, and he grappled with two things for many years. First, whether he should be a man of his time or cultivate his own individuality and philosophy. Did he want to get caught up in contemporary political and social disputes or focus on his more lofty work? Second, he would feel elated during great periods of activity and enlightenment and a few months later sense time slipping away from him and his greatest moments no longer achievable.

I’m not comparing myself to Emerson, but I face the same dilemmas. Do I work harder on that great novel or make a video about the proper way to set your irrigation timer? Am I wasting my time and the ability to making a lasting mark by getting caught up in gossamer social fads?

Like the “sage of Concord,” I struggle with these inner conflicts, especially when a troll comments harshly on my lighter-style videos. Why am I arguing with some anonymous, internet name-caller when I could be doing more meaningful things?

Yet just when I think Tik Tok is either pernicious or fluff, I’m heartened by someone from another State leading me through the process of fixing my doorbell or I’m able to play a piano duet with a person I’ve never met.

A few times in the past year, I’ve posted videos wondering whether I should continue. I get warm encouragement in response, and several times I’ve been asked to make a video on specific topics regarding spilling or efficiency. It makes one realize that for all of Tik Tok’s potential faults there is some light in the dark tunnel.

How far down the tunnel do I want to go? I am a goal-oriented person, so I keep coming back to this question. Since money and fame don’t rank high on my list I wonder what I’m doing it for and at what point I should stop. I saw a poster nearly weep because she received 40,000 views of a video she made. I don’t want Tik Tok to mean that much to me, but I like spreading my brand of picayune, around-the-house tips and suggestions.

I could opine on more controversial topics such as politics and dating. That, however, feels cheap, and I find it against whatever code I’m living by to go outside my lane.

There are plenty of content makers, however, who are willing to do whatever for likes and views. There must be hundreds of people who do trivia or Wordle, and even more who play video games while others watch them play. Maybe they are passionate about this kind of content, but it’s also an easy way to build a platform quickly, and I don’t know how much they truly love what they are providing.

My day-to-day work is in real estate, and sometimes the only way to win is to walk away from a bad deal. Tik Tok, like much of social media, is hard for many people to walk away from. In terms of communication, business, and daily living social media is irrefragably woven into the fabric of our lives, but as regards leisure-like apps such as Tik Tok, some people can’t let it go. It’s a dopamine hit, a support system, dare I say an addiction.

Perhaps I will make it another year on Tik Tok (if the US government doesn’t ban it) and reach the 1,000 follower threshold. At that point, I suppose I could make a little money, and that’s not a bad goal, but all good things, whether financial or temporal, must end, and so will my dance with Tik Tok. When and were that will be I’m not sure, but I’ll certain to make a video about it.

To see my videos on Tik Tok, download the app and check me out at @NoSpills.

About The Author

Randy Steinberg has been a Blast film critic since 2011. He has a Master's Degree in Film/Screenwriting from Boston University. He taught screenwriting at BU from 1999-2010. In 2020, he joined the Boston Online Critics Film Association (BOFCA). Randy can be contacted at his website: www.RandySteinbergWriting.com

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