An overwhelming proportion of young people are feeling the impacts of loneliness and social isolation – according to a survey carried out by market research firm YouGov, nearly half of all those surveyed report feeling lonely once a month, a figure that rises to 71% of those between the ages of 16 and 24.
Social media platforms and tech companies are starting to realize that they've perhaps inadvertently contributed to this social isolation. Now, a number of tech companies are deliberately building their apps and platforms in a way that encourages people to go offline. The apps simply facilitate virtual connections between people – the rest happens in real life.
Dating-app burnout, for example, has people searching for alternatives to the endless swipe. You can access dating app Thursday only on Thursdays, which incentivizes making plans to meet up, rather than constantly messaging. The app also hosts group meetups in London and New York City.
And, although all things Web3 – think crypto currency, non-fungible tokens and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) – might indicate heavy online interaction, more Web3-based communities are emerging that deliberately favor and facilitate real-life meetups. TakeFriends With Benefits, a DAO of more than 3,000 members who all own some proportion of $FWB crypto tokens. As well as convening on the chat platform Discord, the community also meets IRL on occasion – and those events are open only to those who hold the token. Meanwhile, Superlocal is offering its online community of ‘Localtrotters’ the opportunity to acquire more of its token as and when they check in to real-life locations, such as cafes and tourist spots.
Despite these incentives to get users off an app and go outside, there are a number of challenges in scaling – and that's key to getting an IRL community mobilized in the first place. Isabella Ross-Skinner is the PR manager at Clyx, an app that helps people get off the group chat by creating events. Users can vote on the best times and venues for the event, rather than getting stuck in an endless cycle of conversation. ‘We aim to create fun times rather than report on them,’ Isabella says.
That said, once people do come away from the app and into an IRL experience, it's more difficult to manage a community and keep people incentivized to come back. ‘The primary risk centers on the fact that we can't control what people do once they're IRL, or monitor and curtail any bad activity,’ Isabella says. ‘To counter these risks, we employ stringent security methods; users can report suspicious activity on the app and communicate with us via the website's contact tools.’
The digital nomad generation
Another platform trying to achieve the goal of getting people outside is Locals.org. The idea, says co-founder Timon Afinsky, came from a need to reduce the distance between people, especially those who are new to a city. Locals.org aims to connect like-minded people to one another in a bid to tackle loneliness. It's currently live in London and Los Angeles, and people are already inviting strangers to a wide range of activities through it – polo lessons, forest baths, poetry writing and horticultural walks are just some of the communities that Timon mentions.
For Timon, brand ambassadors were a key part of scaling the platform up and spreading awareness about it. These people can rally others to join and keep the experience running smoothly. ‘If people form relationships after meeting on Locals.org, we've achieved our goal,’ he says. And it looks like it's organically leading to growth: ‘It's a common thing on Locals.org, that people go to one experience then, on the same day, join [a] second one, and end up attending a third, all created by different hosts.’ As an invitation-based platform, the Locals.org team is also able to grow in a more slow and sustainable way, retaining a tight control on who has access to the community.
A version of this article was first published in Courier issue 47, June/July 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.