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    • A teenager opens the TikTok app on their phone.

Trends in Media: Shorter Content Reflects Growing Democracy

Melody Cui '23
In 2018, when TikTok first became the hottest new platform, it was unique for its full embrace of short-form videos. Although earlier apps and Vine made way for shorter content through lip-sync covers and six-second loops respectively, TikTok was the first to provide a place for everything from dances to satirical skits. But while short-form videos are a relatively new development, they are also part of a greater shift in media content towards becoming more accessible and democratic, one that comes with potentially detrimental effects on society’s patience for global humanitarian issues.
The rise of short-form content is merely a continuation of the direction video production has been taking for the last hundred years. The film industry first began developing at the start of the twentieth century, followed a few decades later by the rise of TV shows with episodes that were more easily consumed than two-hour films. Music videos entered the scene in the ‘80s with the launch of MTV, and when YouTube was founded in 2005, ten-minute (and shorter) videos of all different kinds found a home. Nearly two decades later, TikToks, Reels, and Shorts are many people’s preferred form of digital media. That’s not to say films and long-form videos aren’t still popular, but TikTok’s ongoing success is a testament to the ever-growing demand for short-form content: In 2022, TikTok surpassed both social media titans Instagram and Snapchat in teen usage, second only to YouTube. 

Videos aren’t the only form of content that have been steadily decreasing in length during the modern era: Music and literature have done so as well, among others. Prior to the rise of popular music, orchestral symphonies comprised the majority of people’s listening experience; most of these symphonies lasted from ten to twenty minutes in the Classical Period and thirty-five to forty-five minutes in the late Romantic Period. In the early 20th century, singles began gaining popularity due to the rise of recorded music. The 1950s marked a return to longer music with the era of the album with the release of the LP, but in the early twenty-first century, singles once again regained popularity. And now, with music streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music at anyone’s disposal, anyone can listen to any three-minute song whenever they want.
Modern fiction has followed a similar pattern for the last few centuries. The modern novel developed in the early 1700s, and, soon thereafter, publishers began serializing their works, releasing them over the course of a few months to break them into more easily digestible parts. Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist is one of the most famous novels to be first serially published. The 1800s also featured the arrival of the modern short story, a shift led by the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and, later, Anton Chekhov. Less than a hundred years later, flash fiction (also known as short-short stories) reduced the short story even further, challenging authors to write stories in around two pages or less. One of the most famous pieces of flash fiction is written by Ernest Hemingway and consists of only six words: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”

This push for shorter content seems to be a reflection of the increasing democratization in most parts of the world. As the length of videos, literature, and music decreases, the accessibility and freedom of these forms are increasing. Films used to be restricted to scheduled theater showings, but platforms like TikTok and YouTube allow videos to be enjoyed anytime, anywhere, and by anyone. Similarly, literature and music can be enjoyed beyond the bounds of 500 page novels and orchestral concerts, reducing the need for additional time or resources. Thus, the same way the modern era has been characterized by a shift from monarchies to democracies, allowing citizens to have more control of policies governing their lives, the needs of everyday citizens are now also dictating the direction art and consumable content takes. And in the 21st century, the primary needs seem to be greater convenience, accessibility, and efficiency.
But with that greater democratization comes its own set of consequences for society, particularly regarding our ability to tackle issues. While platforms like TikTok are increasing awareness about global topics, they also inundate users with information, making it harder for people to become seriously invested in any single problem. A study done by researchers in Denmark and published in the Nature Communications journal found that as the amount of available content on the internet increased, the amount of attention users gave to a particular event or topic decreased. This trend can already be seen in the prevalence of social media activism: For a few days, feeds will be flooded with resources for supporting social justice movements or individuals, and then they’ll never be talked about again. In essence, social issues have become fads. And when social media is one of the most popular ways of spreading information about global events, this sort of quickly fading concern does not bode well.

As we move forward into a world where the amount and accessibility of short-form content will only continue to increase, and I see two possible paths: 1. We can choose to believe that democratization requires sacrifice and what we have is already the best-case scenario, or 2. We can impose restrictions on apps with the hope that these regulations will eliminate only the negatives and none of the positives. I am personally more inclined to go with the former, but regardless of what the next step is, we should remember that new technology inevitably results in new problems, many of them unpredictable, and we will need to stay wary of the ramifications of our choices.
Editor in Chief 
Asher Joseph

Managing Editor 
Margaret Russell

Claire Billings
Jo Reymond
Rose Porosoff
Eric Roberts
Abby Rakotomavo
Elona Spiewak
Veena Scholand
Miriam Levin
Liliana Dumas
Saisha Ghai
Olivia Yu
Anya Mahajan
Rain Zeng
Winter Szarabajka
Aerin O'Brien

Karun Srihari
Samantha Bernstein
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Elaina Paktuka
Edel Lee
Anjali van Bladel
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Rebecca Li

Hailey Willey
Web Editors
Amelia Hudonogov-Foster
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Chloe Wang

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Shanti Madison
The Razor's Edge reflects the opinion of 4/5 of the editorial board and will not be signed. The Razor welcomes letters to the editor but reserves the right to decide which letters to publish, and to edit letters for space reasons. Unsigned letters will not be published, but names may be withheld on request. Letters are subject to the same libel laws as articles. The views expressed in letters are not necessarily those of the editorial board.
The Razor,
 an open forum publication, is published monthly during the school year by students of: 
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