Will we need to learn how to socialize again?
The New Yorker magazine posted a humorous yet thought-provoking cartoon strip that raised the question of when the vaccines finally give us the chance to again socialize in-person after so many months of not being able to. Will we need post-coronavirus resocialization lessons?
See the entire cartoon strip by clicking here.
This raises the broader question of how many of our newly acquired pandemic habits will continue to stick when we get to the “new normal”? To what extent will we return to the behaviors we had back in 2019? I wrote extensively about this in our most recent Leisure eNewsletter, where we discussed 21 trends that will impact the post-pandemic world for out-of-home entertainment and arts (OOH E&A). If you missed reading it, here’s just a snippet from that article.
Some Covid caused behavioral changes will only be circumstantial and temporary, lasting only as long as the pandemic. For example, wearing face masks is probably not a long-term trend that will continue after infection from the virus is no longer a concern. However, some behavioral shifts will remain with us well into the post-pandemic world.
If the pandemic had lasted, say, one to two months, it is likely society would snap back quickly to “the way things were,” back to “normal.” But Covid has stuck around for a long time, now over ten months since the pandemic was declared. Consumer habits that started or accelerated during Covid are now so long-lasting that they may become permanent habits even when Covid is no longer considered in our behaviors. The longer people do something, the longer it becomes their norm.
Consumer habits can change after someone tries a new way of doing things two or three times out of necessity. Research on habit formation has found that it takes a minimum of 18 days to a little over two months (66 days) on average, and no more than 254 days for a new habit to form. We’re now 314 days into the pandemic, well past the 254 days. Many of our new behaviors have passed two other tests for a habit to continue – first, it needs to bring some benefits, and second, the constraints of keeping up with the habit need to be low, it is easy to continue. New pleasure-based habits are tough to break because enjoyable behavior prompts our brains to release dopamine. Dopamine is the reward that strengthens the habit and creates the craving to do it again.
The competitive landscape will be different for all types of leisure activities than in pre-crisis times. There will be a redistribution of leisure time and spending amongst all the leisure options people have. Some will gain share while others lose share.
Many of our new and increasing non-OOH E&A behaviors and habits are likely to stick and continue even post-pandemic, permanently replacing some of the prior OOH ones. Yes, most people will return to visiting OOH E&A, but probably less frequently, as leisure time is a zero-sum game. You only have so much of it. More of it will continue to be enjoyed as it was during the pandemic.
Instead of asking, “Is there a reason to do this online or at home?” people will now be asking, “Is there a good reason to do this away from home?” The new at-home and virtual opportunities and habits will be formidable competition to the forms of OOH E&A that existed pre-corona (read the entire article).
Getting back to The New Yorker cartoon, there is no reason to believe we will need lessons on how to socialize in-person. It’s part of our DNA. The question is, will we do it as often as we did in 2019? Will our newly learned and adopted or increased use of virtual options replace some of our previous out-of-home socialization time? Socialization was the primary reason most people visited all variety of OOH E&A venues in the past. Now we have all manner of virtual options to socialize with friends and family located in other locations while we sit safe and comfortable in sweats or pajamas in our lounge chairs. We have many videotelephony options, such as Zoom. We’ve attended concerts in video games such as Fortnight, which have become social platforms. We’ve spent time connecting and socializing with friends in inhabited virtual worlds such as Animal Crossing, New Horizons. Streaming platforms have added extensions where we can have socially shared experiences, “watch parties,” using text, audio, and even video chat socializing features while watching synced content.
Only time will tell to what extend our Covid-acquired virtual habits and behaviors will reshape the future of face-to-face socialization and its resulting impact on attendance at out-of-home entertainment and arts. No, we haven’t forgotten how to socialize in-person. It’s just a question of will we do it as much as in the past. There is one certain thing; the future isn’t what it used to be.
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