‘Think local’ has been the counter-cry since globalisation took hold. Perhaps the next should be ‘Think private’.
When was the last time you went to a special event and didn’t post about it online? Whether it’s the food you ate, a group selfie or a location shot, chances are it’s on a newsfeed somewhere. If you didn’t post it, someone else will have. After all, #PhotosOrItDidn’tHappen has become a way of life.
We live our lives online. Or the edited highlights, anyway. No judgement. I do it, too. But there’s a change in the air and it’s not just the #DeleteFacebook movement that’s sprung up following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Maybe it’s the sort of people I hang out with, but I’ve been noticing a recurring theme in my conversations – a crying out for a return to the real, for things we can touch, for authenticity in our interactions, and human connection that doesn’t have a screen between it.
It can be seen in the slow food and fashion movements. It’s in the craft markets where you can chat to the maker. It’s in like-minded meet ups where community is created: ccommunity gardens and adventure groups and book clubs and any interest you can gather around. It’s craving for things we took for granted before we became addicted to carrying the world around in our pockets – handwritten letters, home-cooked food, late-night d&ms with friends, events where the people you meet care more about you than how many Facebook friends you have.
It’s not just doing those things offline that matters, it’s having no trace of it online at all. That’s when the magic happens… it becomes illicit, almost. A beautiful secret. A shared experience that’s ours and ours alone. The ‘special’ factor gets ramped right up.
Perhaps it’s also because, when something isn’t recorded, we know we have to be fully present or it will be lost, and isn’t being present what we’re all wishing we could be, if only we could put our phones down? Returning to the slow, touchable, offline world means finally putting our phones down, at least for a while.
Is all of this a backlash to much of the shallowness online, especially around sites like Instagram and Facebook? Are people tired of being reduced to numbers, clicks and likes, follows and data units? There has to be an element of that, at least.
In amongst that, we’re realising that not everything has to be shouted from the rooftops. Not everything needs to be measured to matter. Maybe we’re getting over the need for that kind of validation, because we’re starting to see where all the focus on numbers is leading us and it’s not a nice place.
What if the most successful people in the future are those who have no online presence at all? No one can deny there’s a mystique that goes with being a hermit from the online world – as many of the biggest celebrities are already showing.
And yes, it’s more complicated than that. I love social media, I use it constantly. I’ve connected with people I would never have found otherwise. For business, it’s an important tool. There’s a place for measuring numbers, gathering data and using it to grow your business. It can’t be ignored.
But people aren’t just the sum of their units of data, and they’re craving soulful experiences that reflect that. Creating something that’s just for ‘us’ – not for the world at large, not for the biggest possible audience and not for those who didn’t put in the effort to be part of it – is a way of staying in touch with our community and our humanity.
How this will look for businesses is yet to be seen. Not every business can send a handwritten response to their customers, nor should they. I suspect that authenticity is what customers will be responding to, in whatever shape that takes. Personally, I find it exciting and am looking forward to where this takes us.