Drowning in communication but starved for connection - the role of events in overcoming social isolation
By Vanessa Green, MEA Director
Modern life sees us inundated with ever-increasing amounts of information. Digital communication and technology have overhauled our lives, but loneliness is a growing social epidemic. How can the events sector help address our need for human connection?
The digital era has given us more control over how and where we work, shop, and interact and we have more and more tools to help us efficiently meet, buy, work and communicate. No longer are we tied to the physical world or even having to be present to complete tasks or transactions as AI and technology supports us to seamlessly run our lives.
Working remotely is easily done from anywhere with WiFi and secure cloud access means we can connect from most devices with a few simple authentications. Automated features inform our colleagues or clients when we are on leave or away from our desks, and our smart devices ensure we stay on track and don’t miss a deadline, meeting or important event.
The same set of connection tools applies to friends, family, colleagues, clients and thought leaders we follow. We keep in touch through social media platforms, emails, and text messages. It is incredible how much information, data and content we efficiently consume without any live human interaction.
According to research this year from Meltwater and We Are Social, Australian internet users spend an average of 5 hours and 51 minutes online daily. Before you’ve even finished your first coffee of the day, you might find out Aunt Mary is taking her dog to the vet, your work colleague is on vacation in Vietnam, there has been a change of leadership at Qantas, your boss is working remotely today, a supplier has a new range of sustainable products, the trains are disrupted, there is an event at your child’s school tomorrow, you have two virtual meetings, and your purchase order for a piece of equipment requested has been approved.
You’re drowning in information and haven’t even spoken to anyone yet…
While productive, this lifestyle does not create genuine human connections. The family WhatsApp chat lets you know that Aunt Mary’s dog is okay, but you’ve not had an in-person catch-up since Christmas. Our digital networks are growing, but we’re losing out on the personal, human connections. How many of those followers do we know well enough to reach out to work on a project together, recommend for a role at your company, or invite to lunch to catch up?
Despite our increased channels of digital connection, social isolation is on the rise, with recent data from the HILDA survey (one of Australia’s leading sources of information on economic and personal well-being) showing a decline in the frequency of social contact of 11% from 2001 to 2020. In addition, loneliness is reported to have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic, with recognised risks for premature mortality and mental and physical health.
Meet to connect
Unsurprisingly, IACC survey data revealed that networking is now one of the most important meeting event objectives. Event attendees increasingly report opportunities to network and meet people as a priority when attending conferences demonstrating there is no replacement for human connection and conversation.
When physically together, we generate more creative ideas, learn faster, retain more information and communicate more effectively. We also create deeper bonds and build trust and connection more quickly than written, virtual and digital communications.
In a time when well-being is a growing focus, as event industry professionals, we have the unique opportunity to bring more human connection into the lives of our colleagues and clients, and even ourselves.