Weekly 2: On Tik Tok and Negativity

Short versus long-form content and modes of thinking towards feeling bad.

Alec Chen
6 min readDec 19, 2020
Screenshot from My Octupus Teacher


I’ve been playing quite a bit of chess recently, and I’ve noticed my intuition has somehow gotten a lot better. I haven’t played since my sophomore year of high school, but I just feel like I’ve been making far more creative plays that have been paying off or at least leading to really interesting positions, and they’ve made playing recently so much fun.

I’ve been writing a lot more, mostly for the articles I’ve been outputting, but then that triggers tons of other ideas that I can’t help but record. I’m already considering changing up the format of these weeklies, but one way or another, they’ll be continuing.


I recently watched the movie My Octopus Teacher.

I kind of just threw it on on a whim, but it was one of the more impactful films I’ve watched in a while.

I have some friends who really enjoy tik tok, and they expressed to me that they genuinely derived a lot of value from the content they watch on there. I wanted to relate, but when I downloaded the app I was immediately deterred by just how random and uninsightful the recommended videos were. I reported back and they enlightened me on the importance of curating my For You page, so I gave it another one to two weeks, purposefully liking and pressing not interested on different videos.

Although there were a few instances where I got some good laughs and learned some interesting things, I haven’t really returned to the app since then. I had been roaming around an idea of why, but it was this movie, My Octopus Teacher, that led me to my conclusion about why I didn’t derive as much joy from tik tok as I see others do.

At least at this time in my life, the sort of value I like to receive from the content I consume is not what tik tok provides. And at the same time, I’m not going to dismiss tik tok as just a waste of time because I know that the sort of value it provides is what a lot of people like to get from their content, even if they think they shouldn’t.

I think passive consumption of knowledge, like fashion or design inspiration, can be very good on tik tok. I think you can find a lot of really cool things and projects people are doing on tik tok, especially if you don’t have a specific topic you are looking for. I think there are tons of hilarious, albeit very random, videos, and also a lot of fun, relatable content.

But right now, I’m not looking for most of these things, and for those that I am, I generally prefer other platforms.

I think something that is truly impossible to experience from something with as short of a form as tik tok is the way that something like a movie can really alter your mind.

Watching My Octopus Teacher the other day, I cannot describe it better than when the narrator himself said, “It’s like you’re on another planet.” The images themselves are absolutely incredible, and in combination with its sound design, I felt a very intense immersion. Through seeing the sea animals, listening to the narrator describe his experience, observing the behavior and the story that was put together through the different shots, it really expanded my mind. And to be completely upfront, it made me really consider living on the tip of Africa and experiencing it myself.

I imagine the difference between this sort of movie and watching a tik tok on 7 crazy octopus facts is like the difference between living in a country for several months, versus visiting for a weekend. I remember watching a tik tok about wolves — I don’t know why all these examples are animal-related — and I remember that wolves are actually rather humongous and way bigger than the typical dog, and I find that pretty cool. But I’m going to forever have a much deeper admiration for just how intricate and alien the octopus is, and I’ll remember it’s social aptitudes, it’s techniques for evasion and hunting, it’s transformative abilities, and everything else (there is much much more to this movie than I can describe here!).

It’s the depth of the experience and understanding that can only come from longer-lasting, continuous immersion that I think makes longer-form content like movies so valuable. And that just happens to be more often what I’m craving.


Negativity can be kind of confusing for a lot of people. Is it good? Is it bad?

And I’m not talking about being a negative or pessimistic person, but about our mindset towards negativity in our lives.

Really when we ask, “is it good? is it bad?” we’re looking for the answer to “is it useful or helpful?” Because negativity, inherently, feels bad. It’s negative.

However, it’s common for us to believe that it helps us. That when we feel bad it’s ourselves telling us we need to do better in some way, that feeling bad will make us do better, and do better faster. After all, if we didn’t feel bad, we wouldn’t have any reason to improve? Right?

Well, not really. I think you can want to improve at a craft, or in any area of your life without feeling bad. I think the majority of people want that no matter what. It’s why people with their needs met are still striving in one way or another to make things better.

This leads me to the second mode of thinking: Negativity isn’t necessary. Although it may fuel you, it’s not sustainable. Negativity is bad fuel, and it’ll bring more unhappiness in the end. Instead, acceptance is key. If you can grow to look back on your mistakes fondly and without regret, then you can find catharsis in the things that would normally trouble you, without losing motivation to move forward.

I think this mindset is a great place to be.

Although, I must mention some examples of where the first mode has been necessary to one’s success. I recently finished watching The Last Dance, a 10-episode documentary series on the Chicago Bulls’ NBA Championship run(s) in the 90s. Intuitively, there was a major focus on Michael Jordan, and he used negativity to tremendous effect. In the series, he verged on being a bully, instilling fear in his teammates, and he was just as harsh on himself, and towards members of other teams who rubbed him the wrong way.

For Michael Jordan and the Bulls, the negativity was without a doubt worth it. But it isn’t worth it for everyone, and I would say it isn’t most of the time.

However, negativity isn’t entirely useless. Sometimes negativity can be the most authentic way to look back on something.

This brings us to the third mindset: Negativity can be good. Although living without regrets is possible, it is not only difficult, but it can feel unrealistic. I think as long as you have a base of understanding and acceptance behind negativity, it can be the most genuine evaluation of something that’s passed.

Here’s an example of all three in context:

Negativity as fuel → I wasted high school I’m such a piece of garbage. I can’t let myself fuck the rest of my life up.

Negativity is unnecessary, with priority on acceptance → I didn’t waste high school. I needed to do everything I did to end up where I am today. I choose to look back on my time fondly and without regret.

Negativity upon understanding and acceptance → I wasted high school. I did what I thought was best at the time, but looking back I would choose to do things differently. That’s okay, and there’s nothing to be done about it now except to do things better going forward.

I honestly think any of these places are fine places to be, as long as you’re conscious and purposeful about it. If I rewrite the first one it can be framed in better spirits:

Negativity as fuel → I wasted high school, and I’m not going to let myself make the same mistakes again.

If you don’t let it get in the way of your happiness in the present, it’s possible to transmute it. Excelsior, right?

I think the most trouble comes when all we know is the first, or when we think we’re at the third when we’re really at the first.