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).