Strolling vs. Scrolling: What’s the Next Social?
By Josefina Salomon
A few months ago, I took a sabbatical from social media. The must-watch videos that, at the onset of the pandemic, seemed fun (bread, yoga and political debates) quickly became overwhelming. So I switched out the apps for the great outdoors and actually making phone calls. Spoiler alert: Chatting with friends when you haven’t already been scrolling through their feeds makes for more interesting conversations.
Of course, I’m not alone. Even as the number of social media users grows, an ever-expanding tribe of disillusioned humanity is turning its back on these data-hungry, privacy-shredding platforms. Increasingly, people are turning to outdoor community activities and privacy-friendly social media platforms. Read on in today’s Daily Dose to see what’s beyond social media.
hey you, look up!
Allergic to Cookies (and Ads)
The world wants its privacy back, and the social media giants are not happy about it, since they make much of their money by selling personal data to advertisers. Top of their list of worries is a European Union law that has put control of tracking tools, or cookies, back in the hands of users. The ruling could also spread to other territories. With millions opting out of putting their personal data in the hands of Facebook and other platforms, targeted ads are failing in their objective. But that’s not all. Changes to Apple’s new iOS, which allows users to say no to tracking, are also preventing ads from reaching many would-be consumers.
This isn’t to say that users are abandoning social media in massive droves. Many platforms are doing better than ever — and they have pandemic-induced lockdowns to thank. As soon as our doors shuttered at the start of the pandemic, the gates of our Facebook, TikTok and Insta feeds opened so wide that no one seems able to shut them. Social media use increased 13% in the past year alone. For many, the addictive platforms became a lifeline, a forum for community, entertainment, news and even social protest. “In the pandemic we’re constantly looking for that social stimulation,” Kellan Terry, director of communications at Brandwatch told Recode. “Social media somewhat filled the gap but not wholly.”
OK, Now Stop (Please)
But what happens after you watch hundreds of hours of home cooking and yoga posing while trying to have a life and find love online? Experts call it “social-media fatigue.” Andrea Vera, a humanitarian worker from Mexico, calls it tedium. “I was very active on dating apps during the first months of lockdown, but after a few months it just got boring. So I stopped using them,” she tells OZY. “Now, I spend more time going out to the parks, doing other activities.” She is not alone. According to an international survey conducted by Brandwatch, the number of people talking about social-media fatigue increased by 41% in the first 10 months of 2020 compared to the same period in the previous year. Another reason people are dropping the platforms? They say they make you dumber.
tomorrow’s (privacy-friendly) social media
Facebook Without Facebook
Still not ready to quit, but worried about all that data-collecting and tracking? Don’t despair. An army of startups has been developing some pretty cool alternatives to the traditional giants to protect your privacy as you socialize online. First stop is Sociall, something of an answer to Facebook with features that include posts and photos but without all the tracking. Users are not even indexed in search engines, making profiles that much more secure.
French startup Yubo may be the TikTok of the future, especially with younger people keen to keep a close hold on their privacy and digital safety. The app, targeted at the under-25 market, offers options to broadcast live streamings and join like-minded users. Two more reasons why this newcomer is already proving a hit? First, Yubo’s data collection and privacy policies are spelled-out and easy to understand. Second, the platform separates users into two age groups and prevents those under 18 from interacting with adults. That’s a relief for parents everywhere and a roadmap for how to safely make friends online.
Despite your best efforts and warnings, most of your friends and family are still on Facebook. Their every click and post is monitored and analyzed to feed Zuckerberg’s algorithm, right? While not a social media replacement per se, Jumbo can help you rest assured that those among your network who can’t quit Twitter are able to continue to use it safely. The app notifies users what information of theirs is being shared, and with which websites. It also allows you to erase that data, and social media posts, and to control what information you want to share in the future. Even better? Jumbo doesn’t store any of your user details. Now go tell mom.
wanna go outside?
Parks, the New Social Space
For all those social media deserters lucky enough to have access to vaccines (and even those who haven’t), the new social platform is the outdoors. That’s right; walking, cycling, skiing and camping are making a huge comeback. In Norway, a study found that recreational activity increased by 240% during a five-week lockdown last year, while interest in indoor attractions is declining fast. Once outdoors, people are forming new social networks and clubs, making ditching the phone that much easier.
Skiing in Surprising Places
With many team sports off the menu during the pandemic, some people have resorted to new, creative ways to get their kids out of the house and away from their screens. In the American Midwest, an unlikely hobby is proving a hit: cross-country skiing. Catherine Curley, who teaches at the Hilltoppers XC ski club outside Cleveland, tells OZY that three times as many people signed up last winter than in the previous year. Travel limitations and weariness of close-contact team sports have given good old skiing the edge it’s been looking for.
Remember all those flashy gyms with loud music and fluffy towels? In the U.K., working out indoors was so popular before the pandemic that 1 in 7 people were gym members. When lockdowns arrived, however, people realized they could instead walk in a park or cycle (if they could find a bike, as those sold out fast). Many gyms began closing their doors and struggled to reopen. But with Britons celebrating “freedom day” last week and gym classes back on the menu, are people going to return? The rising popularity of new (and affordable) digital fitness options and accessible home equipment would suggest the answer may be no.
But Can the Outdoors Hold Us?
Getting outdoors is great for everyone, right? Not if you’re a national park. Unable to cope with record numbers of visitors, some of the most popular outdoor attractions in the U.S. have had to turn tourists away. Yellowstone National Park received 50% more visitors over Memorial day weekend this year compared to the same period in 2019. To visit some parks, you need to make a booking first. In Europe, park employees are particularly concerned that many of those exploring the outdoors are inexperienced and unprepared, which has put some adventurers in great danger.
Outdoor Advertising, Reloaded
Aware of people shutting down their laptops and putting their phones away as they run outside, advertising firms have already pivoted: They are bringing outdoor campaigns back. But gone are the days when a company could simply pay someone to wear a sandwich board and stand on the street corner. The post-COVID-19 street advertising world promises expanded digital and interactive offerings and will even employ facial recognition technology so the content on billboards can match the demographics of onlookers. Do you see what I see?
What’s the one thing you can’t escape when you go out for a stroll in the city? Walls. Brands from Gucci to Louboutin, Adidas and McDonald’s are teaming up with street artists to create “mural ads” in some of the most popular neighborhoods in cities across the world. Colorful, bold, tech-free and in-your-face, they might be the best advertising strategy for the post-COVID-19 world. Not everybody is happy, though. Some artists are pushing back, “warning that paint ads” have little to do with their art.
A Tale of Two (Small) Shops
As we all know, the pandemic has caused financial mayhem, with millions of small businesses forced to shut down (think of the cafés situated in or near office buildings that have been empty for over a year). But there are some who have spied opportunity in the changes in peoples’ social habits. In the U.S., startups are experiencing a great revival. Businesses that managed to adapt to new consumer trends, like the independent retail giant Etsy, are going strong.
social changes born of past pandemics
Spitting in Public
Gross, right? Well, in 19th-century Europe, North America and China this was an acceptable and even facilitated social behavior. Walk into a public venue where people would traditionally socialize and exchange words on the news of the day, be it a hotel, pub or even the U.S. Capitol, and you’d see a bowl called a spittoon. Often placed in the middle of the floor, the spittoon was used mainly by tobacco-chewers. But by 1889, medical experts had caught on to the fact that saliva was a deadly transmitter of disease. Germ theory was in its infancy, but spurred by a global tuberculosis epidemic that killed millions of people, health warnings and leaflets were posted in public places for the first time. Spitting was no longer cool.
A Safer Shade of Pale
For centuries, English nobility sought to maintain a pale complexion to distinguish themselves from the working class who toiled for hours in fields under the sun. How’d they manage it? By staying inside their stale mansions, away from natural light and the outdoors in general. Afternoon tea parties, social activities and gossiping all took place in rooms filled with stagnant air. What’s more, some even sought to emulate the physical attributes the aforementioned TB unleashed upon its victims. But by the turn of the 20th century, with TB responsible for millions of deaths in Europe, medical science had caught on: Fresh air and getting outdoors would save millions of lives.
For centuries, right up until COVID-19 struck last year, it was common for drinking cups to be shared at public water fountains outside mosques, on street corners and at natural springs in countries across the world. Families would use the street water taps, though there were known health risks, as a gathering point to collect all the “social media” they could consume. Now the pandemic has resulted in the closing of many of these drinking areas. In India, however, the state of Kerala was ahead of the curve when it announced in late 2019, just months before the pandemic struck, that it would close down all public water drinking spots (to promote private water use). Had it not done so, we may have been looking at an even greater number of COVID-19 fatalities in India today.
- Josefina Salomon, OZY Author Contact Josefina Salomon