The Lightning Pace of Social Media Trends

They affect you more than you may realize.


Design by Emily Zhang ’23 and Graphics by Nicoly De Vasconcelos ‘24

Social media: the dictator of all things teenaged and trendy. Whether you like it or not, the media you consume plays a massive role in your everyday life. Even those staunchly opposed to apps like TikTok or BeReal can never quite detach themselves from the clutches of “trends.” 

Sure, we can try to avoid being roped into the short fads–think TikTok dances–but it becomes harder when online trends begin to shape the words and phrases that fill our conversations. That’s when you become surrounded by these trends, even if you don’t have the apps yourself. For example, Izzy has TikTok and is a very regular user– Makenna does not. Yet, we both pick up new lingo around the same time. 

Although these fast-paced trends apply mainly to teenagers, people of all ages are more and more consumed by the bright and alluring devices in their pockets. The phrase “sticky iPad kid” is becoming less of a joke and more of a reality: young children are entranced by games and TV shows on their tablets, complete with comically large screen protectors. 

And while young people are often criticized for being “screenagers,” older people, too, are fostering technologically savvy methods of keeping up with the news in our fast-paced world. According to ​​Pew Research Center, in 2012, only 13% of people over 65 owned a smartphone; that number skyrocketed to 61% in 2021. 

These levels of global and social interconnectedness are unprecedented, and what can be lighthearted and fun can quickly turn grave and dangerous. 

Sure, there are silly trends, like the lightly-teasing phrase “sassy man apocalypse.” But there’s also the “eat-Tide-Pods-because-they’re-bright-and-colorful” trend. And a trend that encouraged eating spoonfuls of cinnamon, which can be dangerous and life-threatening. 

Not only can certain trends be damaging to your mental and/or physical health (seriously, guys, please don’t eat inedible things) but the apps that propagate them are taking a toll on our attention spans. According to Sociality and Hootsuite, the  “recommended” length for maximum engagement on a TikTok is ​​21-34 seconds. That number drops to 7-15 seconds on Instagram Reels. 

We’ve become so programmed to lose interest after half a minute that it’s become much harder to pay attention to a two-hour-long movie or even a 15 minute-long YouTube video, however genuinely interested you are. According to Forbes, the average attention span of a millennial is 12 seconds—and for Gen Zers, that number drops to just 8 seconds.

When algorithms loop people into a perfectly curated set of videos that update in rapid succession, it’s easy to spend hours mindlessly consuming content. We’re becoming addicted to infinitesimally short clips displaying exactly what we want to see, and it’s easier than ever to tap the “share” button. 

To be clear, we are victims of this vicious cycle of trends as well. We don’t want to leave you with something broad and honestly unrealistic like: “Delete your socials and all your problems will be solved!” 

We do, nonetheless, want to caution you. The next time you feel yourself being drawn in by a trend, remind yourself that it is targeted, short-lived, and often-times, a filtered version of reality. It’s important to be aware of your own boundaries when it comes to these sometimes pernicious trends: know when to enjoy yourself and indulge in some media antics, and when it’s time to put your phone away and take a break from the world of social media for a while.