Spoon-fed

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I enjoy being spoon-fed just a little bit.

This policy applies to any number of things. For instance, I like my current events-related one-liners beamed straight to my eyeballs in saucy 140-character dispatches. I’m not interested in scouring the far reaches of the internet empire to find those tweets in the rough. Handy timelines soothe me. They let me think that scrolling until I reach where I left off is all I need to navigate my day.

The same goes for memes. I just want to be spoon-fed — but just a little. To that end, I watch TikTok compilations on Youtube. A lot of them are pleasingly titled “tiktoks endorsed by the CEO of comedy” or something along the lines of “tiktoks to help us forget death is certain for everyone on this Earth,” and what can I say? Whoever writes those titles should write copy.

Actual TikToks are OK. As a person who lays almost catatonic except for my scrolling thumb for about five hours every day, I find its honesty refreshing compared to other platforms. Twitter activates my fight-or-flight response, and Instagram, as my friend Deshae so memorably put it, “encourages us to look like vase-shaped people with extra full lips.” I was much more tuned into the golden age of Vine than I am to this TikTok renaissance; now it’s mostly nostalgia that glues my eyes to the screen. Still, I’ll admit the platform has its appeal.

I have this theory that the unconscious objective in any prehuman interaction scrolling is, like any other morning ritual, preparation for the day. It’s the modern equivalent of sharpening your club or whatever before going mastodon hunting with the squad. No matter if you’re watching the same peanut butter baby video everyone and their mom has been watching since 2012 or the breaking CNN livestream, you’re drawing up the emotions, memories, facts and figures you need to face the day. It’s dumb, but it’s true: Watching a TikTok compilation is, in a way, teaching your brain what series of dance moves corresponds with which song and which face is Charli D’Amelio’s — essential education for this day and age.

The fact that these TikTok compilations even exist on Youtube suggests we’ve hit something of a critical mass. You no longer need to participate in the (frankly annoying) process of “Create your account” — there’s no pressure to populate your own page of TikToks to join the conversation. This is where the intervention of spoon-feeding saves us all trouble: I don’t need to follow TikTok stars or monitor potential sleeper hit TikToks myself. Just like in the glory days of Vine, I can wait until the originals or their endless imitations, riffs or spinoffs inevitably hit Twitter or Youtube or the ‘gram, then I feast like a baby bird from a giving hand.

Here’s the manifesto: Cross-platform curation and compilation dictate relevancy, but the relationship between the two isn’t necessarily smooth or beneficial. The fact that TikTok compilations now rack up views on Youtube is an important inflection point, since we know from the postmortem examination of Vine that the instant you go nuclear is the moment you become history.

There are about 200 Vines memorialized on Youtube that any internet-literate young adult can recite and reference, but you can establish a canon only when the original text is settled — as in, no longer taking new additions. On paper, it may have been Twitter’s acquisition of Periscope or maybe the sheer sleekness of Instagram stories that killed Vine, but in my mind, when we picked via Youtube compilations which Vines would become timeless symbology, we doomed all other Vines to irrelevance.

As much as omniscient algorithms entrance and dismay, the Goldilocks amount of spoon-feeding (i.e. just a little bit) is relentlessly, inimitably human. Vine landed squarely at the counterintuitive intersection of rabid popularity and zero profitability, so it’s difficult to separate the platform’s cultural enshrinement from its business demise. Even so, some lessons are evident: Once a real live person chooses which Vines matter, compiles them in an uninterrupted, ad-free 13-minute format and posts them to a more accessible platform, nobody needs a content-discovery algorithm anymore. Vine dies.

Your father, for instance, is probably satisfied not knowing what to “Explore” or “What’s Trending” because Apple News already showed him which presidential tweets defined the day. Whether man- or machine-generated, the authoritative guide on what exactly is “For Me” is trivial to the average user. We’ll consume our morning briefs on meme literacy and meaning-creation in the internet age no matter who or what generates it.

Spoon-feeding is a natural consequence of all social media, which tends not to broaden users’ perspectives as much as it claims to. The key is that we want to be spoon-fed but, as I say, just a tiny bit. We want to be comfortably siloed but not bored watching content that’s fresh but not foreign, relevant but not overexposed.

Too much spoon-feeding is drinking the nonsensical puree of headlines and celebrity tweets of the 5 o’clock evening roundup. Too little is trying to read the encyclopedia before brushing your teeth. The Goldilocks amount of spoon-feeding motivates an eagerness to return to your feed, no matter the day. The real magic of social media is a level of mystery both irresistible and delightful: Why do I religiously follow this woman who smashes her face into loaves of bread? Will @Horse_ebooks ever tweet again? Will this compilation titled “tiktoks that keep me up past my bedtime” deliver on its promise?

Casey Li writes the Monday column on popular culture. Contact her at [email protected]