I, like many others, downloaded TikTok when my two-week mandatory quarantine turned into months at home. My first dives into the app were admittedly very confusing, it felt like I walked into a high school party and all the jokes flew over my head. The user experience can be overwhelming at the sheer amount of interactions available to the user – there are hashtags, sounds, trends, dances, part 2s, part 3s, like for more, stitches, and so much more. Some features seem dull until you witness the full potential demonstrated by a creator. Take for instance, the humble duet. As implied, the feature involves two creators, “duetting” in side-by-side videos. Creators duet to answer questions of other creators, to participate in trends, or highlight videos to their followers. Tiktok offered a simple responsive-based interaction and the creators have organically forged that feature into something quite beautiful – a game of telephone.
I first noticed it when individuals would post a video with the declarative, “if you’re me, duet this in an hour…” and then proceed to ask questions or add commentary. If you, a viewer, stumbled upon the duet, it’s just eavesdropping on a wonderful conversation between a past self and future self. Were tasks done? Was breakfast eaten? Are you okay? The mundane becomes captivating.
Then I noticed the declaration change to, “this video is for my sister, if you’re my sister duet this…” People started to use the duet feature to call out to their distant family members. I scroll past because I feel like I’m invading on someone’s private conversation. Since Tiktok is an open app (you don’t even need an account to start viewing videos), anyone can view the video, but it’s not meant for you, it’s meant for the sister. But then awhile later I’ll see the finished duet, the sister has responded! Were tasks done? Maybe. Was breakfast eaten? Maybe. Are you okay? I think so. I love you…I love you too!
I continue to be amazed by the content I find on TikTok (no dances, I assure you), and honestly I thought it couldn’t get more interesting than the POC urban forager I follow or the Irish sheep farmer I follow. Despite Covid, despite distance, despite quarantine, people are eager for connection, even if it’s through an app like TikTok. The conversations from these duets are subtle reminders for self-care, much-needed check-ins with a deep focus on “but…how are you?” My coursework of late has revolved around the notion of re-centering the human and pivoting design thinking to include non-human entities. Tiktok telephone duets are a sweet reminder that we are human, and sometimes it’s nice to just be human.