I was super-into Wacky Packages when I was a kid, trading cards and stickers with twisted humor and artwork focused, in part, on popular brands. For example, Crest became “Crust” with a garlic flavour. I had a pack in my bedroom and took them to school every day to trade with other children. My parents had no idea of that fascination. We were teenagers, living adult lives and pursuing grown-up interests.

Nowadays, the carefully cultivated division of babies, tweens, adolescents and adults is much more fragile. Our digital lives mean that adults are almost unable to ignore or protect themselves from common digital activities. Many adults (but not nearly enough) know they are doing so at their own risk.

Check out TikTok. The popular social content sharing site has rocked to the top of both the free app download lists for both the Apple Store (# 1) and Google Play (# 2). This is where mainly young people post their own lip-syncing 15-second videos to popular songs, popular movie clips, and dumb, funny, emotional, and sometimes dangerous stunts.

Since it was called Music.ly and used almost exclusively to post lip-sync videos the app has been on my radar. At the time, Music.ly did a poor job of shielding its incredibly young user base from predators who could access them all too easily through the app’s messaging side and from kids stumbling on explicit content that proliferated rapidly on the site.

ByteDance cleaned up all of that when it acquired Music.ly and released TikTok in the U.S. but its poor approach to age restrictions in 2018 also won it a huge fine. New users are unable to enter without fitting into their generation, which must be over 13. I always believe, based on what I’ve seen, that there are a decent number of kids lying on TikTok about their age.

Getting to Know TikTok

Before I go any further. Here are some things you should know about TikTok:

  • The app is free
  • You don’t have to join to watch TikTok videos
  • Joining lets you create videos, follow accounts, like, and comment
  • Most videos are 15 seconds long
  • You swipe up to watch the next video
  • Videos are often connected to a meme or challenge
  • Videos featuring music, short lip syncs are popular
  • Videos can incorporate visual gags
  • It includes powerful, easy-to-use video enhancement tools
  • Messaging only works between those who follow each other
  • It does have ads

Put simply, TikTok is about to become inescapable.

I think I’m too old for TikTok if I’m honest, although one TikTok marketing exec confirmed to me earlier this year that I could find many adults and, yes, even people of my age using the app.

I haven’t seen much of that, but the resemblance between TikTok and one of my favorite social media platforms, the long-dead Vine, is unmistakable. That is why I keep coming back to TikTok, trying to get a handle on the that phenomenon.

It Feels Familiar

Unlike TikTok, Vine started as an obscure social media platform that was launched into the broader public consciousness after it was acquired by a bigger social media company — in the case of Vine, Twitter.

The limitations of Vine (6 second videos) and the unconventional methods of visual production (touching the screen to record, letting go to stop), ignited an unparalleled wave of imagination on social media. Vine stars (known as Viners) were present one year into the launch. The comedians, visual effects artists, and musicians, like Shawn Mendez, who found fame and fortune through Vine, were particularly intriguing to me.

For a time, Vines were everywhere. Popular Viners had millions of followers and (because every video automatically looped) countless more views. Then it all went away.

In reality, the impression of Vine was greater than that of her actual footprint. Vine’s 200 million users consumed mostly the relatively small amount of content that its famous creators had made. On the other hand, the combination of TikTok’s easy-to-use creation tools and an even easier-to-use distribution platform has helped it expand to 1 billion users (globally) and, I suppose, far more amateur developers.

Many of the Viners that I followed, including King Bach and Zach King, moved easily to Instagram, which was adding video without the six-second restriction during Vine’s run. I might tell that many of them consider freeing up the ability to upload longer videos. Also, Instagram recently launched its own Creators account to help direct creators in Instagram. I think that is a direct response to the growth of TikTok.

We’re TikToking

Now many of those creators are also on TikTok, making 15 second clips with Vine’s notes, but in TikTok’s main.

On TikTok (Furlan “caved” and joined this month) are former Vine comedians Bach and Brittany Furlan. For example, Bach makes sure to include interludes of music in his pieces. Zach King does visual effects but in the 60-second films, he also includes footage behind the scenes. As with Vine (and other social media platforms), TikTok has now checked accounts, another indication that it is moving from an all-teen and completely random digital playground to a larger space.

One guy who’s not exactly fitting the youth style of the platform is Brittlestar. I encountered the personality of social media, the real name of which is Stewart Reynolds, when we both did a lot of Vines. Today, not only is TikTok’s40-plus funny man, he’s classified as a “famous founder.” “I think TikTok is exciting,” Reynolds told me, via direct Twitter (DM) message. “It feels like Vine in 2014 with one notable difference. On TikTok there are WAY more up-and-coming creators. Where people used to just get Vine to watch, there’s a bigger percentage of TikTok creators actively.”

I decided to dive back into TikTok to try and master it, inspired by Reynolds and what these seasoned creators have created. I started researching the side of the visual effects and developed a handful of TikToks, but it’s going slow. I’m not a singer and find it embarrassing to have lip syncing.

So What?

By now I guess you wonder what TikTok has to do with you. TikTok is at the cusp of a large moment in history. The New Yorker claims that this is the moment for TikTok, and that may be true. Celebrities and brands are starting to flood in and, in the space of a few weeks, I’ve watched actor Ken Jeong show TikTok live on The Emmys and then actress Reese Witherspoon get an amusing lesson from her clearly embarrassed son in TikTok production.

Simply put, TikTok’s about to become inevitable.

Now, I suggest you should download TikTok and start posting 15 seconds of images. But if you have kids or it’s your job to keep your cultural literacy up-to-date, you need to understand TikTok, which means you can download and watch at least (be careful, TikToks are like Lay’s potato chips: you can’t watch just one).

When you can afford to let children be children and disregard their Wacky Packs, they’re gone. Youthful interests should become your interests, particularly the digital ones (are there any others?). Before they transform into your question.

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