Ding! You have 647 YouTube notifications highlighted in an angry red color staring back at you. Better click on it before the dopamine in your caveman brain drops even slightly from failing to clear it! Ding! Your Fizz post got 10 upvotes! You haven’t felt this sensation since hitting your first Juul! I’m sure that this time the anonymous interaction will bring long-term fulfillment and alleviate your longing for human connection! Ding! @familyguyclip_funnymoments just posted on TikTok!There goes two hours of your afternoon.
Perhaps you are one of the esoteric few privy to the secret phenomena of Family Guy, South Park, and other adult cartoon clips combined with footage from poorly made mobile games into dopamine-packed split-screen shorts on TikTok. Or maybe you are a part of the even more selective few who wait for them to eventually make their way onto YouTube Shorts or Instagram Reels. Regardless, the shorts have become a genre in and of themselves. This category of video (which takes up, on the worst days, hours of my time) reflects a quintessentially Gen-Z truth. Our attention spans are completely shot.
It is comical how loaded these videos are. Everyone already knows that years of access to mobile devices, social media, and online content have turned our brains into little more than dopamine receptors begging us for just one more hit. TikTok has taken this to an extreme, popularizing rapid-fire shorts that require less than a minute of your time to consume. Attention spans for consuming entertainment have grown so short that watching a single half-hour television episode can spark a sense of accomplishment once reserved for completing actual work.
The Family Guy clips take this phenomenon to a different level. The combination of the bite-sized and plot-independent humor of Family Guy with the mindless coin collection and constant movement of Subway Surfers results in the most easily consumable entertainment imaginable. The Chinese subtitles frequently placed at the bottom of the clip combined with the TikTok UI fleshes out the exceptionally banal viewing experience. Get bored of whatever bit is going on in the episode topside? Let your eyes wander down below to the mindless visual ASMR to fill the time! Like with everything else, entertainment has been optimized.
Consuming this content can feel shameful. The guilty pleasure of watching an entire episode of Rick and Morty cut down into sequential clips on TikTok is not something I will be putting on my resume. When I first fell down this rabbit hole of the internet, I thought it was just a couple of niche bot pages generating all of this content. But after offhandedly showing my roommate a South Park episode combined with a soap-cutting clip, I realized with horror that the trend had spread, hidden in plain sight. I began asking my friends if they spend their free time watching Family Guy on TikTok. More often than not, I was met with a yes and an expression of relief that they are not the only ones.
Most people do not share what they engage with online. Trends can rise to prominence and occupy space in our minds without ever making their way into a spoken conversation. The two worlds comprise separate spheres of our lives, and your digital taste can be strangely disconnected from who you are in the real world. However, the most interesting thing here is not that the secret lives we live online would destroy others’ perceptions of us, but the fact that our real-world friends often share the same niche internet interests as us. We could stand to be more open about the content we consume online. After all, it is now a daily part of nearly all of our lives. Our discourse has yet to catch up.