'Friendship homework' is sending TikTok links back and forth all day – Insider

Being a millennial, I can vividly remember the world of instant messaging. As soon as I would come home from school, I would log onto my MSN messenger, and talk to the very same people I had just spent 8 hours at school with. Now even the thought of that seems exhausting.
As we grew up, so did social media. Slowly but surely, being online became about sharing links and memes. Over the pandemic, TikTok quickly ascended as one of the most popular apps, and competitors like Instagram are trying to keep up by pushing short-form content. 
Tech companies are fighting to be the leader of short-form videos because we, the users, are constantly telling them how much we love them. Not only is TikTok one of the most downloaded apps in the world, but studies show that users also spend an average of 45 minutes a day on it, and a majority of active users engage with other people’s content.
Scrolling through an endless feed of dance trends, funny skits, or how-to videos also requires nothing from us. You don’t need to craft a witty response, take a stance, or make a thoughtful analysis; All you need to do is sit back and enjoy. And because TikTok’s algorithm is perfectly curated for you, it makes it all that much easier for you to be able to find something relatable to send to a friend. 
This is how “friendship homework” is born. Instead of sending an endless stream of texts back and forth, you simply send your friends your favorite video links. My best friend lives in another timezone with a schedule that vastly differs from mine. Whenever I wake up, I have about on average 30 TikToks from her. While we’re only able to talk on the phone about once a month, I still feel emotionally connected to her in the time in between. Her TikToks communicate how she’s doing and what she’s thinking about. 
My friend and I are not the only ones who use “friendship homework” to bond with one another. For some, it can even be a form of therapy. 
Amal Awais Chughtai, a 26-year-old writer and illustrator based in Karachi, Pakistan, lost her father unexpectedly earlier this year. Sending TikToks or Reels has been her way of staying in touch with loved ones as she navigates her own complicated trauma. 
“In the midst of grief, it has been really tough to check in with friends, and it can feel very isolating. At least by sending them an Instagram Reel or a TikTok I can feel like I am still in contact with people, and I don’t feel as emotionally exhausted as a text or call would make me feel,” she told Insider.
She also knows it’s a non-intrusive way for her friends to check up on her. “I’ve been receiving memes too since my dad passed, and yes, it feels nice that someone would think of me,” she said. 
But, of course, it doesn’t replace a meaningful conversation she needs to have with friends. It’s more of a placeholder until she and her friends can carve that time out.
“I think that the problem with this method is that it loses nuance sometimes. Yes, it makes me laugh, but what do I do when I need someone to cry with and grieve? So ultimately, it’s a good form of passive friendship, but it cannot take on the role of an active and engaging friendship,” Chughtai said. 
For a lot of people, finding and assigning “friendship homework” can help them relax. 35-year-old PR professional Francesca Baker said scrolling through memes on Instagram is part of her bedtime ritual. For about 30 minutes each night, she scrolls through her feeds and sends memes to her fiance, sister, best friend, and anyone else she thinks will enjoy them. She finds it fun. And it communicates something that she may not have the words for. 
“The memes articulate things I can’t resonate well [with]” she says. 
Hubbiah Rafaqat, a 26-year-old marketing professional from Glasgow calls it “soft contact,” or making an attempt to say, Hey, I’m thinking about you, without putting any pressure into having a full conversation. 
“It’s like touching base with a friend but it’s not overwhelming. There’s no urgency to it,” Rafaqat said.
And a lot of people appreciate the ease. 
“I think the best part about messaging this way is that it doesn’t require an immediate response,” said Jessica Goodwin, a 43-year-old mom and writer from Falls Church, Virginia. 
She has a good “mom friend” whom she constantly trades TikTok video links with. “Whenever I see anything funny involving mom life or our need for coffee, I’ll send it to her for a laugh,” she added. 
While it can be a mortal sin to leave someone on read, the social etiquette for “friendship homework” is vastly different. When a friend sends me a dozen videos, they do not require a response. I can merely “react” with an emoji or a double-tap heart and that does the job. 
Chughtai said sending links is mostly a selfish act, but that’s also the point. It doesn’t matter to her whether or not she hears back from her friends. 
“I don’t care mostly because I am not sending them to get responses or to get the meme back,” she said. “I am actually terrible at watching the videos people send me. I just like sharing things I find funny, or letting someone know I continue to think of them even if we’re not in constant contact.”
The relaxed rules surrounding “friendship homework” is what makes it so popular. Sana Malik, a PhD candidate in cultural anthropology at Emory University, thinks the ease can even allow for deeper communication.
 “Non-verbal forms of communication are fun, potentially subversive, and allow different types of conversations to take place,” she told Insider. “Symbols carry deeper meanings, and are open to interpretation beyond the literal.” 
But Smriti Joshi, a psychologist and telemental health expert, warns people to not go overboard. 
“Like everything in life, it’s about balance – some of this is fine, but it shouldn’t replace all connections,” Joshi said.
She stressed the importance of in-person contact. “Humans are social beings who depend on not just communication processes alone but proximity to each other – comfort and warmth from being together in the same room.”
Joshi advised young people to have some balance with their phone and social media use. It is all too common for friends or family to be sitting together but be glued to their own phones, and that can lead to future communication issues, conflicts, and prolonged feelings of loneliness.
Bearing that in mind, for me, “friendship homework” has enriched my relationships more than it’s jeopardized them. And being in a phase of life where my social circle is scattered all across the globe, it’s also allowed me to feel less guilty about not being in contact more. 
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to watch 30 TikToks to see how my best friend is doing today. 
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