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Byte-sized buzz: The craze for short-form media 

It feels essential to state that ‘short-form’ media, in its clips and images, is inevitably never a short-term experience. We’ve all opened our phones searching for some momentary respite, only to look up after what feels like seconds to see the hours have flown by, a deadline has been missed, your window plant has died, and the seasons have changed. Our phones provide an immediate escapism, an instant detachment from an intellectual hole we have dug for ourselves in some dark corner of our degrees. We used to read books; now we just close the eleven SOLO tabs and open Instagram Reels. 

Oh Reels! Where would I be without you? Probably more in control of my life. I was never one for the Tik Tok craze, since the Gen Z energy smothering it reminded me too much of a Musical.ly childhood (and that’s trauma I’m yet to unpack, trauma that can be left behind in the world of Reels). Snuggly tucked into my Instagram homepage, countless worlds zoom past at my fingertips; the best National Trust spots in Somerset that you must visit this summer, three mistakes you’re making with bacon, and an absurdist collage of mournful racoons staring out of windows to Olivia Rodrigo’s Driver’s Licence. As you can see I’ve kept these examples intentionally vague – allowing someone to scroll through your Reels feels as violating as finding out your parents have been through your browser history. 

I used to spend hours staying up chatting to friends on my first phone, an Alcatel Pixel that didn’t have the capacity to download apps. Now my friend and I exchange Reels about bowel movements and tarot card readings without a word passing between us. Liking it suffices. Sharing with someone something they’ll relate to, find enjoyment in, or take offence to – well, that takes a personal understanding of who they are. Is sharing Reels simply a new form of communication, or should we decry this new way of expressing friendship? Humanity survived the transition from stamping letters to instant, direct messaging. So why not this? 

Perhaps because its speed and pace makes us prone to overload and overstimulation. In no time, we’ll all be downloading compressed Reel compendiums into our brains at 1000 TB a second. In my degree we (my tutors) ask whether there is a limit to growth we should not exceed. Never mind all that economic bullsh*t, is there a limit to the amount of content we can consume? I can just about cram a few hundred references into my mind palace before feeling like an academic aneurysm is approaching. Yet, how come I can watch a few hundred Reels (is that a shocking amount? It’s certainly an honest one) and feel nothing but glee, before the Reels come-down hits hard. My essays remain unwritten and emails unanswered. The reason is dopamine, and he’s a mean guy. I give it agency only to abandon all responsibility for my own lack of self-control. 

Over the past 20 years, young people have been spending more and more time on our phones, and yet we face the same challenges and daily to-do lists. While the scrollaholic may struggle to complete these tasks, more often students are getting less sleep as a sacrifice to time spent on social media. Flicking through BeReals, losing ourselves in a Youtube Shorts rabbit-hole, or in a Vinted shopping basket – it’s often the last thing we do before going to bed and the first thing we wake up to in the morning. Perhaps this reveals more about my own behaviours than I’d care to admit, but I am not the only one. Chronically sleep deprived, and yet doing nothing to change it.. I’m that guy face-down in the library or precariously swaying in the back of a lecture. Far from ground-breaking, but if I put the Reels aside and took  a break from that infamous ‘blue light’ (did you just roll your eyes?), then perhaps I’d have more energy to talk to my friends with words, not just Reels. 

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