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Abstract

TikTok has become a popular social media application since the onset of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic because of the way that the app allows users to connect to each other through short form video sharing. Creativity and sociality intersect on TikTok where users are encouraged to creatively re-interpret trends using an archive of popular sounds to perform with. What is notable however is the way that the app’s software algorithm is meant to “get you.” It is efficient at learning about the user through their interaction patterns and it makes users feel seen in unanticipated ways. One genre of TikToks interprets the algorithm as more than a mathematical function. There are “psychic” videos prefaced with a variation of the statement “If you see this, this is for you.” These videos imply that the app’s algorithm is able to work metaphysically by bringing a user to a video meant to predict their fate. This interpretation brings insight to projections of the divine onto new media technologies. It has inspired my anthropological analysis of the foundations for human technological relationships. Hope, affirmations, a sense of self, and personal trajectory can be derived from new digital media despite there being many qualms about such intimate connections. Through interviews, video material analysis, and my own personal experience on TikTok, I want to get at what makes TikTok a space that harbors a subjective entity with whom one can fathom a relationship. I do this through identifying a particular way of navigating space and place, identity and belonging, affect and subjectivity, and notably potent relationships on and to the app. I argue that the feeling of being with something psychic on the app is an intertextual interpretation of algorithmic technicity intersecting, if not enmeshing itself with, sociocultural affordances as it pertains to identifying subjects to relate to. This collision creates a sense of user-personhood and is an example of a paradoxically resonant and dissonant experience, the feeling of a relationship between people and the increasingly ubiquitous algorithm.

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