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Brooklyn Kiosow Aug 25, 2022
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Thoughts After Dark answers the questions you have in the final moments before drifting off to sleep when a simple Google search turns into an hour-long exploration into how things are made and how they work. Your random late-night questions are answered here — even the ones you didn’t know you had.
Even without downloading the social media app, TikTok’s short, shareable videos are almost impossible to escape. From Instagram to Reddit, they’re shared again, and again, and again.
TikTok’s algorithm is one of the most mathematical and sophisticated. As the New York Times puts it, it basically reads your mind. The app speaks to each user’s interests and quirks, making it really easy to scroll for hours on end (yes, I’ve been there).
I’ve curated my TikTok feed to cater to my interests. Or, more likely, the algorithm figured me out. After using the app for nearly two years, I am now fed almost solely cooking videos, grocery hauls, and home decor tours. I’ve saved enough recipes I’ll probably never make to last me five years. I did, though, make the viral TikTok pasta.
But, as it turns out, there is also a whole world of factory TikToks. These videos are transforming our understanding of the factory worker and how things are made. But why are they so popular?
Factory videos on TikTok range from gloves being made on an assembly line to production lines of workers putting toys together. Today, the #factory hashtag has more than 4.5 billion views on the platform and nearly 6 billion related videos. To put that in perspective, the #cuteanimal hashtag has just over 917 million views.
A TikTok user with the handle “Production Line” has nearly 245,000 followers. This account’s videos range from eggs being manually painted gold, to cardboard boxes moving down a conveyor belt, to workers handling beads for garments.
Other popular accounts show similar production processes. While it’s impossible to define “factory TikTok” in just a few words, it gives a small peek into how products, often mundane, are made.
As writer Andrew Deck puts it, “It can be hypnotizing to peer into this industrial world, which is usually obfuscated by complex supply chains.”
Most of the factory videos on the platform come from Chinese factories trying to sell products. These videos perform so well that there are entire accounts dedicated to reposting the content and using it as their own to gain a following.
As factory videos became their own genre on apps like Douyin, a platform like TikTok domestic to China, it eventually spread and made its way to TikTok.
When Xinyuan Wang, an anthropology researcher from the University of London, explored the reasoning behind posting these videos, workers told Wang that “you see and you feel where you are in this globalized labor chain,” and it made very mundane tasks more meaningful.
For outside viewers, videos of workers fulfilling seemingly monotonous tasks give them a glimpse into who makes these everyday products and how they are made. For many people unfamiliar with industry, products are simply stocked on shelves for purchase — there is no detailed description of origin on the back of the container or bottle — and these videos help close the knowledge gap.
These videos not only fulfill a curiosity element natural to human nature, but they show the human labor behind a variety of products.
For many, it’s also oddly satisfying to see the repetitive, intricate nature behind the production of products. If you don’t believe me, search the hashtag #oddlysatisfying on TikTok, and you will find there are over 82 billion views; several of which include factory work.
Many of these #factory videos are shared by employers to sell a product — not employees documenting their own labor. But they may help repaint the narrative of factory work.
Traditionally, factory work has been viewed as hard, manual labor. But many of these videos show advanced automation and employee collaboration, giving insight into our encroachment on Industry 5.0 and the nature behind the production process. It also dispels some myths of what factory work must look like, as it can look like many things — proven by the plethora of TikToks.
This isn’t to say that these videos tell the full story of factory work, but they do give many a glimpse into an unfamiliar world while simultaneously letting workers give new significance to their labor.
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Image Credit: noPPonPat / Shutterstock.com
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