August 31, 2020

Me Too era dead: "Call your crush" TikTok trend

A recent post looked at signs from TikTok trends that the Me Too era is indeed over, and with it the broader vulnerable phase of the 15-year excitement cycle (2015-'19). Now we're into the restless warm-up phase.

The previous trend we saw was "surprise kissing your best friend," clearly a sign of people leaving their refractory states, coming out of their social-emotional shells, and feeling eager to mix it up with the opposite sex again -- albeit in baby steps at first, e.g. by practicing on your bff.

Also, the notion of "consent" is gone (the initiator makes their move without asking first). People will only hysterically demand consent for any and all forms of interaction if they are in a refractory state, hypersensitive to stimuli, and where the slightest mis-touch could crash their nervous system. Now that their energy levels are recovering to baseline, they don't mind if someone makes a move without asking permission. If they reciprocate, fine; if not, they'll push them away -- without, however, launching a hysterical witch hunt.

Prior to that trend was a similar although less intense trend -- playing a game of odd-man-out, where the loser has to call their crush and confess their feelings on camera. This began in the end of November 2019 and lasted into early 2020 -- the same time I posted here about various signs that girls were getting all horned up again (blatantly brushing against me in public places, catcalling me from their car, and so on, for the first time since summer 2015). So there really was a widespread breakout around the turn of the year, as predicted by my excitement cycle model.

Below is just one compilation from YouTube (search for others using "tiktok crush call / confession"). Some of them are clearly fakes, where the kids can't act at all. I don't recall any of them being real where the person calls another member of the group on camera, but given the "kiss your bff" trend, there might be some that are. Generally, though, these are genuine, since you can't fake the palpable nervousness when they're calling, or their explosive excitement if their crush says they feel the same way.

This was only the first baby step toward leaving their vulnerable-phase shells. A few months after this trend, they escalated from just letting their crush know, to planting a kiss right on their lips by surprise.

The other big-picture observations from the previous post hold here as well. This is a non-parasocial use of smartphone apps and so-called social media. TikTok, at least for now, is centered on whole trends rather than individual accounts. Although it does have functions for liking a specific item, commenting on it, and following a specific account, those are afterthoughts to the central purpose of browsing through variations on a theme. Users don't care which accounts hop on a trend, and don't stick with them long after their initial encounter with them while trend-browsing.

This trend is not like other internet-mediated fads, such as a hot new meme template. It actually requires you to interact with someone you know IRL, not from online. And you're not contacting them through social media, email, etc. -- it's a good ol' fashioned phone call. Intonation, tempo, non-linguistic vocalizations like laughter, all unfolding in real time, back and forth -- these corporeal qualities of conversations that people had assumed were dead after the adoption of text messaging, email, social media, etc.

And unlike cyber-communication, you're supported by your IRL friends, who are physically close by, perhaps patting you to boost your confidence, and either cheering along if you succeeded, or hugging to reassure you if you failed. And of course the process began with an IRL game, and the social pressure to adhere to the rules if you're the odd-man-out. None of these qualities carry over into the cyber-realm.

This trend, and the other one, show how current tech can complement or encourage reality, rather than poorly substitute for it. The presence of the camera recording the whole event provides an extra little bit of "the clock's ticking" pressure so you don't wimp out. It can then send the signal to a wide group of people, who can imitate the example, helping the activity catch on far beyond the original group. And it keeps the pressure from becoming too great -- there's plausible deniability when you're calling your crush "because I lost a TikTok challenge," rather than calling them entirely out of the blue. You feel less personal responsibility, making it easier to carry out the action, much like the classic "spin the bottle" game.

To conclude, I'm getting more comfortable calling the end of the cocooning social mood that's been growing since roughly 1990, after the outgoing mood that had been growing from circa 1960 to 1990, itself following the last cocooning period of roughly 1930 to 1960, and before that the outgoing mood of 1900 to 1930. These social moods are linked to trends in crime rates, with outgoing moods matching a rising crime rate, and cocooning moods matching a falling crime rate, for reasons I detailed here in the early 2010s. (Briefly, outgoing people have their guard down in public, making them easier prey for criminals, while cocooning people have their guard up all the time, making them harder to prey on. Similar to a predator-prey model from ecology.)

I'd always predicted that circa 2020 the crime rate would start rising again (based on the length of previous rising and falling phases), and that the social mood would shift back into outgoing, signaled by greater levels of interpersonal trust and letting your guard down as a result. I just don't see the "phone as personal shield" pattern that was ubiquitous in the late 2000s and most of the 2010s. These young people on TikTok could not be letting their guard down more around their friends and acquaintances. Contrast that against the picture of the 2010s, where each friend would be staring down at their own separate laptop / phone, even while seated less than a foot apart in a public hang-out space like Starbucks. Public hang-outs don't look like insect hives for drones anymore.


  1. Anna Khachiyan used "orthogonal" in today's Red Scare podcast. Where did she learn this mathematical vocab word, if she's an arts student who's allergic to math? I checked her twitter archive for it -- no hits, and she's been on since 2009.

    Awww, she must still be lurking here. From a recent comment of mine:

    I appreciate the loyalty. She didn't just momentarily "feel seen" from her name appearing on "The List" last year, and then forget all about the most interesting person left on the internet. Readers don't just absorb novel insights, they pick up fun new vocab words to impress their friends with, too!

    You should comment here every once in awhile, don't be so shy. Breathe some fresh air into the comments section. Best of all -- no discourse cops. Real samizdat hours.

    Same invitation goes for other former / current lurkers like Aimee Terese, Michael Tracey, and Heather Habsburg. I know it may seem intimidating to fraternize with someone from the wrong side of the cyber-tracks -- the ominous, decaying ruins of the blogosphere -- but we won't bite.

    Plus I moderate comments (originally to keep out spam), in case you're worried about haters and 'tards piling on with substance-free invective (#SafeSpace). All those freaks migrated to social media platforms years ago anyway, they're not lurking around blogs anymore.

  2. When do you think the rising crime cycle started? January of 2020?

  3. It may not have started yet, since crime is the lagging variable after the social mood. So, first people become more outgoing, trusting in interpersonal situations, especially around strangers and public places -- and that creates better opportunities for criminals.

    Likewise, when people start cocooning and keeping their guard up, that deprives criminals of targets.

    Last time crime rose steadily, the outgoing mood looks to have started a bit earlier. Homicide rate starts going up in 1959, but already by a few years earlier than that there was the explosion of rock 'n' roll, more free-wheeling teen culture, the beginning of the end for drive-ins (where everyone is isolated from one another), and the widespread boredom with the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit lifestyle (book in '55, movie in '56).

    At the other end, there are multiple signs that cocooning and falling trust levels began around 1989-'90, a few years before the crime rate peaked in '92. Video game arcade revenues, share of people saying they go out biking and other physical activities, the General Social Survey's measure of interpersonal trust, and so on and so forth.

    So this time, if the social mood is shifting back into outgoing and guard-down mode, it may still take until 2022 to see the national crime rates begin a steady rise.

    The riots etc. are something different -- that's not interpersonal, opportunistic violence, but collective political violence. Civil unrest, civil war, etc. That goes according to the Turchin cycle of 50 years. It just so happens to coincide with the cocooning-and-crime cycle this time around.

    Last time around, the homicide rate was already rising in 1959, well before the political collective violence of the late '60s and early '70s.

    And the time before that, the collective political violence peak was around 1920, whereas homicide rates had been rising since at least 1900 (maybe a tad before then, data are not there).


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