How bullet chess and TikTok can both ruin your attention span [#16]

You should never use TikTok, and I have a few reasons why.

How bullet chess and TikTok can both ruin your attention span [#16]

Two things you should know about me:

  1. I used to play a lot of bullet chess.
  2. I think using TikTok is one of the worst life decisions you can ever make.

These two statements may seem completely irrelevant — but I promise they are fundamentally linked. By the end of this article, I’ll (hopefully) have convinced you that you shouldn’t ever use TikTok. Let’s dive in.

1. What's bullet chess?

Bullet chess is essentially really, really fast chess. If you're a visual learner, you can watch arguably the two best bullet players in the world play bullet chess.

Each player typically has either one or two minutes to make all of their moves. Sometimes there’s this funky extra thing called increment where you get some time back after you make a move. But perhaps most importantly, the bullet games I would play would take 2 minutes maximum.

While the rules in bullet chess and classical chess are exactly the same, the overarching strategies are completely different. You can make massive mistakes in bullet (hanging your queen, hanging checkmate) that simply wouldn't happen in classical. Plus, you win if your opponent runs out of time (except in certain cases). This opens up crazy opportunities — i.e. confusing your opponent with a pretty bad move might actually be good, because it causes them to waste time.

And naturally, watching (and playing) bullet chess is so fun because it's fast. And even if you're completely losing, the next game is only 2 minutes and one button click away.

I'll talk more about bullet chess in section 3.

2. Why do I hate TikTok?

Unless you’ve been living under a barnacle-crusted rock in northern Greenland, you probably know what TikTok is. So I'm going to skip the explanatory paragraph and get right into my burning hatred for TikTok.

My main issue with TikTok is that it obliterates your attention span.

There are many plausible explanations for why TikTok is so bad for your focus and attention span (source, source, source, source). One that I'm a big proponent of — you can receive such a large quantity of dopamine by swiping one finger up your phone. Once your brain learns that you can do practically nothing and receive satisfaction, it's very hard for your brain to rationalize doing harder things — like doing homework or *gasp* fully watching a 5 minute YouTube video.

“[TikTok is] like we’ve made kids live in a candy store and then we tell them to ignore all that candy and eat a plate of vegetables.” —James Williams

I've never downloaded TikTok onto my phone or any of my devices, and I never want to. I honestly don't think silly entertainment is worth my attention span, and I hope you don't either.

So what's the connection between TikTok and bullet chess? I'll explore how they are fundamentally linked in the next section.

3. TikTok resembles bullet chess

"I play way too much bullet chess. It rots the brain just as surely as alcohol." —Nigel Short, English chess grandmaster and commentator

I played in a chess tournament last week — where all of the games took at least 50x longer than a typical game of bullet chess. I found it exceptionally hard to focus (and lost a game I should have 100% won). That's because in the weeks leading up to the tournament, I played too much bullet.

It's considerably harder to focus on playing a 1-2 hour game when you're used to playing moves too quickly and impulsively. I had to force myself to slow down and actually think.

I think there's a pretty tangible connection between TikTok and bullet chess. They both are easy and fun — but come at a cost. Here's a quote (my own) that I think sums up this article pretty well:

"If you spend too much time playing bullet chess, you'll get worse at playing classical chess and your calculation abilities will suffer. But if you spend too much time on TikTok, you'll end up with an attention span shorter than a caffeinated squirrel. And the last time I checked, caffeinated squirrels don't typically make fulfilling life decisions." —Nathan Brown