Communities

Online experiences to offline spaces

Tech companies call for a dial-back in digital consumption, is it finally time to start hanging out again, in-person?

Rashaad Denzel
Jul 3, 2018 · 6 min read

Our connections with one another take shape because we construct our identities in the same way. The need for meaningful connections is becoming increasingly more important as the world becomes more isolated from in-real-life experiences — due to the over-commitment to our social media feeds and mobile devices.

You are not alone in your feelings of loneliness and it has a direct implication to your overall health. According to a recent study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) — WHO now lists “social support networks” as an official determinant of optimal emotional health. Tech companies are listening and are beginning to advocate for users to become more aware of their digital well-being.

In Summer 2017, Facebook announced that it had updated its mission statement to include words like “community,” to emphasize the value of the connections we make amongst our friends and family online.

“Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” — an excerpt from Facebook’s mission statement

Staying true to its mission’s core, Facebook further announced that it would de-prioritize news articles and advertisements from brands to focus on the interactions that we have with our friends and family. While these implementations are still fresh, it’s offering a peek into a unique social trend that will prioritize the quality of our engagements amongst the people we care about in our online communities. Retweets, shares, and likes are less important and they fail to drive the meaningful conversations that users find insightful. These reactive digital interactions are in abundance which can create a false sense of real human connectivity beyond our LED-lit screens.

Facebook isn’t the only tech company advocating for a dial-back in our digital consumption. Both Apple and Google have announced initiatives that address our “digital health.” The recent iOS update from Apple will feature a new user-facing Dashboard designed to give people an easy way to see just how much time they’re spending on a device and inside individual apps. It’ll even show how many times you’ve unlocked your smartphone throughout the day. From the beginning, tech company engineers and designers were encouraged to make their products more engaging by taking advantage of specific design patterns that prompt regular, addictive usage of their products, — as well as features designed to increase a users’ time spent in apps.

Some tech execs have come to acknowledge their regrets for what they’ve built. Former Facebook president Sean Parker stated Facebook’s design exploited a weakness in the human psyche to addict users and said he worried about what it was doing to kids’ brains. Meanwhile, former Google exec Tristan Harris launched a coalition of technologists and activists called the Center for Humane Technology, which aims to encourage “humane design” — that is, a design that reduces distractions and stress, and keeps people from being hooked on their devices.

Now that industry giants are designing against the “engagement economy,” what do you do now with all the free time you have now that you aren’t consistently scrolling through content on your mobile device?

Find Your Tribe: Form Micro-Communites

As society becomes more concerned by the negative side effects of constant connectivity and the stress to advance our digital and physical selves, we’re seeing this generation react by equipping themselves with skills that aim to offset the pressures of their world. Forming support groups and expressive outlets to share honest experiences, this generation is working to make sense of their heightened anxiety and oftentimes stigmatised feelings. Emotional health is a progression of the body positivity movement — in addition to celebrating their physical differences, we’ve entered a phase where we’re now coming together to help understand and celebrate our increasingly complex feelings.

It’s time that we remove the physical barriers, that keep us from interacting in in-person. Our mobile devices have become a social crutch when interacting in the real world. Concerts used to be about a shared experience with your favorite musician, but now that we’re hyperfocused on digital interactions, we have a much harder time, “being in the moment,” even when our physical environments call for us to be present.

The same social anxieties you had when you first walked into the cafeteria in middle school are the same anxieties that exist when finding new friends as adults. Our devotion to individualism causes us to create bubbles and the Internet coddles this individualistic behavior by allowing us to feel like we are engaging, but in reality, we haven’t had any meaningful interactions with people in the physical world. We need to find our tribes.

Now, more than ever, young people are looking towards their community to offer support. You may enjoy art, but you may have a very particular interest that you may only share with a few indiviuduals — finding these groups and events associated with your interests can be done easily through some of the tools that already exist on social platforms. Social channels like Slack, MeetUp, and Eventbrite have features designed for users to cultivate communities of specific interests. Identifying the micro-communities that most closely align with your individual interests may be the answer to creating some of those much-needed experiences with people outside the digital space.

D.C based meet-up group called Color Coded, founded by Pam Assogba identified an opportunity to cultivate a micro-community. ColorCoded is a meetup group compromised of young professionals of color who work in the digital tech industry. Together they meet up in a physical space (sometimes multiple times in a month) where they are encouraged to create new things that can directly impact their communities. The “come-as-you-are” mantra elevates the group’s purpose by fostering an environment where people can be themselves, drink a cup of coffee, create and listen to eclectic sounds curated by its members on a Spotify playlist.

“I do think that social media is at the root of a lot of our mental ailments. It’s, in theory, a great connective tool — we can talk with one another quicker, we can keep up with each other’s lives, etc… but because of that ease of access, we may not make the effort to meet people in real life and have genuine connections. This could definitely lead to loneliness!”

— Pam Assogba, ColorCoded, founder.

Physical experiences bring people together in a way that resonates beyond the means of the digital world. Through our connections, we’ve birthed a shared economy where people and their ideas can spread freely like wildfire — which has spawned several micro-communities and social movements. Young people are trying to figure out how to react. Recent events in the sociopolitical space have really activated us, and one of the first steps is opening up to others so that we don’t feel like we’re alone. It’s ultimately productive because it helps you and helps others out there. Its becoming cool to put your bodies, anxieties, grievances, and all that stuff out there for the world to see.

We can cure the bitters of loneliness by subscribing to the specific communities in which we identify in efforts to bring our worlds together. It also creates an opportunity for those seeking to take a break from the artificial interactions happening through comments, likes and emojis and get out into the real world, with real people. The internet is a tool for change, but ultimately it should too — galvanize people online into offline experiences to create more close-knit communities that support our general wellness.

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