Slowly but surely, after an unbelievable year of disruption, confusion, and tragedy, we’re heading back out into a ~new normal~ (a term we all seem to use daily now, even if nobody's sure what it really means). This comes as we’ve just experienced what felt like the most online period of our lifetimes. We doom scrolled, attended Zoom everything and tracked TikTok trend after TikTok trend endlessly. Now, with over half of the country vaccinated, restrictions being lifted and travel ramping back up, people are eschewing their life online and starting to embrace life offline.
Call it what you will, but it feels like we’re heading into what you might call The Great Log Off: we’re setting aside the omnipresent technologies from the past year and stepping out IRL.
Crisis spurs innovation, and in 2020, years of technological innovation were expedited into months. For one, we were able to manufacture three safe and highly effective vaccines in a matter of months. Of course, I most likely would not be writing this article had that not taken place. Think about how the systems put in place for a WFH office model to come to fruition in weeks. Food delivery infrastructures, from ghost kitchens to virtual restaurants, have become a mainstay in the QSR industry, and according to a McKinsey Global Survey of executives, companies accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years
Much of this was out of necessity, but despite new technology billed to bring us closer together (see: Microsoft Mesh), the last year has shown us that what we value most is human connection. For that, we need to log off.
It would be naive to declare victory over Covid-19 like we were standing on a proverbial aircraft carrier with a massive banner that reads “Mission Accomplished,” but we’re no doubt at a turning point.
Gen Zers in particular aren’t skipping a beat in the transition to IRL. According to a Harvard study, 61% of 18–25-year-olds report feelings of “serious loneliness.” Julie Arbit, Vice Media’s global Senior Vice President of Insights, states that “Because [Gen Zers] think real-life events are good for their mental health, we’re going to see a massive resurgence.” While we spent the bulk of 2020 hanging out in the digital metaverse, new “third spots,” like revamped coffee shops, CBD stores and airports are becoming hotspots for Gen Zers.
Writers and bloggers (traditionally very online people) have similarly begun to forecast a future where we’ll all be a little more Luddite. The Cut, in discussing “what will be cool to other main characters in 2021” predicts that “Being Extremely Offline” will dominate. 8Ball’s Sean Monahan argues that “there will be a new insistence that URL serve IRL — not replace it.” Writer Luke Winkie, in a recent post titled “I wish you all a very pleasant offline” states that “Offline is going to hit like a drug. I can't wait.” No doubt that socializing online will remain relevant, but the current moment is prompting a palpable sense of excitement and eagerness to return to IRL not seen since the roaring ’20s.
Two other trends back this up. For one, re-entry anxiety (this, from a new section in The New Yorker titled “Dept of Returns,”) is a reality facing many regardless of vaccination status. The return of FOMO on the other hand, is a welcome symptom of The Great Log Off. Just months ago, FOMO was a relic of the pre-covid era. What was there to miss when you knew what everyone else was doing on a Friday night? (sitting on their couch).
The joy of the return to a collective and shared experience with our friends, family or co-workers, whether that be seeing the Knicks lose in heartbreaking fashion in Game 1 at a re-electrified MSG, or feeling your feet stick to the bar floor again, has also led us to worry about losing out on these moments again, and rightly so.
Acting Brand New
After a year of virtual activations, brands are encouraging consumers to embrace life beyond the screen. Budweiser, which is teaming up with the White House for the “biggest beer giveaway ever,” just released a new spot that vividly encapsulates Americans signing off, stepping out and experiencing the feeling of grabbing a drink with family and friends after months in isolation. Plus, we all know that happy hour just isn’t the same over Zoom.
Despite digital fashion heating up and gamers spending $4,000 to buy Gucci bags on Roblox, consumers are nevertheless ready to swap out their sweatpants for jeans, even if that means they have to rent them. Fashion rental brands, which were hit especially hard by the pandemic, are also seeing a resurgence. Rent the Runway has seen a 92% increase in active subscribers since May, which the brand’s chief executive, Jennifer Hyman attributes this to consumers' “willingness to celebrate even the smallest of occasions — so-called micro-occasions,” like going to dinner parties, sports events or happy hours. Right on cue, even as money is pouring into the next “digital Supreme,” a sneaker subscription service called KYX World also just launched, which allows consumers to rent once-elusive pairs of high-caliber footwear, for whatever occasion they choose.
Embrace the Etch a Sketch
As someone whose job entails scrolling through the internet regularly, I get a lot of newsletters come through my inbox. One of my favorites is Scott Galloway’s always insightful No Mercy/No Malice. In a recent piece, Galloway likens this moment to an Etch A Sketch — a toy that is always on the verge of both chaos and creativity, and thus a perfect metaphor for our current state. The brilliance of the toy, Galloway says, “is the aluminum powder. A child only needs to flip the toy and shake, redistributing it over the screen...Covid has presented an opportunity to envision our lives turned upside down, powder redistributed. We can start over.”
I don’t pull out this nugget to say that we should all completely abandon technology and go off the grid, but to note that we’re presented with a new opportunity to reimagine our lives at both the micro and macro level—from our personal relationships, to reexamining the larger structural forces of society at large. After all, after a year stuck inside, jumping from one screen to another, we’re all ready to step out and embrace a fresh perspective. So what do you think, are you joining The Great Log Off?