TikTokers Are Showing Their Typical Daily Life, But There’s Nothing Typical About It

“Day in the life” videos are everywhere on TikTok and come in every shape and form. You can follow 22-year-olds “getting their life on track” by cleaning and working out, or college students sharing #motivation by filming themselves studying and working out (all the videos do tend to show a lot of working out). But there are also more niche videos too that reveal supposedly typical lives of a private chef in the Hamptons (946,000 followers) or a woman living and working in the haunted house that inspired The Conjuring movies (1.3 million followers). TikToks featuring the hashtags #dayinthelife, #dayinmylife, and #dailyvlog have more than 49 billion views combined on the platform.

The videos, first popularized in 2020 by young New York City women like Audrey Peters (589,100 followers) and Victoria Paris (1.4 million followers) who filmed themselves visiting brunch spots or nail salons as the city reopened in the pandemic, satisfy our curious and voyeuristic urges. We get a glimpse into the lives of people who aren’t celebrities but still seem somehow glamorous. They might have corporate jobs with good perks, but the work is never really shown (although their workplaces are catching on). They’re 23 and hot and living in Manhattan (it’s always Manhattan) and eating at Carbone. It’s best not to ask how they’re affording all this and just go along for the ride.

“It is fascinating to see how somebody else lives their life. I think even if someone was doing that type of video, and they were just staying at home and playing video games — yeah, I want to know what microwave meal you made for lunch. I find that interesting. I think just getting a portal into somebody else’s life is interesting,” Schwanke said. “But the people who have success with making these videos are people who live kind of insane, carefree lives, and yes, it’s fun to watch. People who have a lot of money and just blow it, and people who kind of live just insane day-to-day lives that seem completely normal to them.”

It’s undeniable that there has been a shift away from the so-called Instagram aesthetic in recent years, with users favoring more authentic content that doesn’t feel staged. This explains why all your friends are suddenly posting photo dumps or downloading BeReal. But even on TikTok, things are still being curated. Hell, it’s a video editing app, after all.

In their most pure form then, these videos occupy something of a middle ground. Your life comes across as both attainable and unattainable. You’re showing it, but also showing it off. We might see you getting ready before you put your makeup on, but we also see the stylish outfit you choose and catch a glimpse of your trendy loft. We’re told this day is pretty typical for you, but yet we see you getting up early for yoga, getting a massage, working until 8 p.m., and still managing to stay out late at a gallery opening — on a Tuesday?! It’s the Gen Z or millennial version of I Don’t Know How She Does It! (The answer? She doesn’t! Even Peters, one of the first to popularize the trend, has admitted she stitches several days together into one video.)

What’s more, they all tend to sound the same. Digital strategist Olivia Yallop wrote a piece for Refinery 29 last year about the emergence of the so-called TikTok voice, the registered style of delivery that pops up in many front-facing videos where users play with their intonation and pace to effectively perform the other people who went viral before them. “It’s a way of signaling that ‘I’m a certain type of person, I’m an influencer,’” sociolinguist Nicole Holliday told Yallop.

Schwanke himself said he was trying to do “the voice” in his video. “It’s like people are turning into robots trying to sound more human on TikTok because TikTok is kind of an insane platform,” he said. “So it’s people trying to humanize themselves and make whatever they’re doing seem normal and like they have their shit together.”

But TikTok’s very nature also means these “day in the life” videos tend to somehow blur into one after a while. The app encourages users to copy trends, and the more of a certain type of video you watch the more the all-knowing, all-seeing algorithm will force feed you. Eventually, they congeal into nothingness.

Which is why Schwanke’s video is so perfect. It’s the TikTok equivalent of semantic satiation, that phenomenon where if you say a word enough times, it loses all meaning and sounds ridiculous. It’s a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, and you can see it start to break down in real time.

By the end of the video, Schwanke has visited the Museum of Ice Cream three times in a single weekend, eaten nonsensical foods at made-up restaurants, spent time with his girlfriend and his husband and wife, and consumed a terrifying amount of marg towers. His voice even starts to speed up and slur by the end as clips of comedy shows and hikes and cooking appear in rapid succession. (For the record, Schwanke estimated about a third of the footage he used was his own, and the rest he pulled from others on the platform, including the clips of the marg tower: “Those girls were having a day,” he said.)

Schwanke is not the first to challenge the reality of these videos. Others users before him upended our perceptions just this past month, but not by using comedy.