People are more isolated than ever—and it’s not because of their phones.
Smoking kills, but not as much as loneliness. The loneliness epidemic is real—and Gen Z feels it the most. While the influx of technology might seem like an easy explanation—thanks in part to the all-too clichéed images of young people staring at their phones, ignoring the potential IRL connections around them—researchers say that that’s not the case. Rather, other factors like the erosion of neighbourhoods, decreased church attendance, and splitting of families are more likely the causes of decreasing socialization.
The number of teens who spend time with their friends nearly every day has decreased by 40 percent between 2000 and 2015, and they’re feeling the effects. 42 percent have felt depressed because they’ve felt alone. And they’re not the only ones—32% of people 55 years or older say they’ve felt the same.
Magic happens when people get together
When Niantic brought Pokemon Go to people’s smartphones, the streets swarmed with people trying to “catch ‘em all.” This phenomenon extended far beyond hardcore gamers — at its zenith, it caught the attention of 45 million people. It still retains 5 million monthly active users, and has built a billion dollar business in the process.
Pokemon became a stimulant for bringing digital gaming into social spaces, and people didn’t just leave their couches to be on their phones. Sure, the pull of spotting a rare Bulbasaur was a draw, but lure parties and Pokémon Go meetups seem to demonstrate that many users were, at least indirectly, looking for something more.
Online spaces can be social
Looking for other examples of connection, companionship, and comradery? Check out the world of online gaming. Whether through networks like Twitch, IRL Esports events, even in-game social elements, games are becoming communities in and of themselves. In her well-cited 2000 report “Social information processing in MUDs,” researcher Sonja Utz reports that 74 percent of online gamers said that they have created lasting meaningful connections with others through these abstract worlds.
One can also look at the extravagance of the 2017 League of Legends World Championship opening ceremony to understand the value in creating a community behind your brand. Of course, not all brands focus on community-based gaming…
When people meet through your brand, they also connect with it
Much like gaming, writing has traditionally been seen as a solo sport—but it doesn’t have to be. That’s why at Wattpad, we host Wattcon. It’s a simple act—turning Wattpad from a URL community into an IRL one for two days—but its effects are immediate. Last year drew 4.2 million impressions on social and each year our writers count down the days until Wattcon returns.
Similarly, a warehouse in San Francisco was recently the meeting place of a sold out “Drunk User Testing” event, where people paid to drink beer and test out apps. It wasn’t the draw of the brands or even the app testing itself that brought the crowd out—it was the thrill of turning user testing—again, traditionally a solo sport— into a social activity.
Every brand wants to create a meaningful connection with its audience. But most miss the opportunity to be the access point to help audience members build meaningful connections in their own lives. Finding a cure for the loneliness epidemic might be a lofty goal, but efforts to create real social connections are noticed, appreciated, and embed your brand into people’s memories.
WattCon is back for 2018, and it’s better than ever. Join us for the biggest Wattpad event of all time as we celebrate stories and the people who tell them.