Technology is a pervasive part of our everyday lives. But despite being more “connected” than ever in a digital sense, it’s common to hear of people feeling more disconnected, distracted and worried that technology is taking away from real human interaction. In response, we’re seeing an emerging trend of people coming together and sharing in new ways that, frankly, have the potential to be very fun and promising for society.
First, a word about timing. Synchronous activities occur in real time at the same time. Think of a live performance, a phone call or video conference. Two or more parties, same time and place operating around a singular activity. Asynchronous activity occurs separately, like a pre-recording or a letter/e-mail written and read later. In the digital world, a social post, blog, or YouTube video are generally asynchronous whereas a liveCast, Facebook live broadcast, Zoom or Hangout meeting would be considered synchronous (at least while it is happening.) Interestingly, Twitter functions like an asynchronous activity, posting mini-blogs (“tweets,”) but its allure comes from the immediacy and buzz of people tweeting and interacting real-time around an event. Ever go home and tweet about an event after the fact? Why bother. Short and now versus historical is how twitter works.
Both synchronous and asynchronous activities have their place. Naturally, an asynchronous activity has a lot of scale and can bring ever more efficiency because you do it on your own time. Think of a post going viral or an e-mail consumed and shared with many. A DIY youtube video is a terrific asynchronous tool. However, because there is no direct real time interaction, these activities lack the same intimacy or realness as synchronous ones and naturally feel a bit more distant. Think about the difference between an e-mail and live chat. Email is way more efficient than chat, but chat is now and creates a sense of urgency. Obviously, the best and most intimate synchronous activity is face to face, however, there is a limitation to how many places we can be and pay attention to at one time.
Humans are creative, social creatures. It’s human nature for people to go off and work or create on their own, as much as it is for them to come together to work and play with one another. What we’re starting to see today is a rise of synchronous activities and co-experiences – events or activities where people engage in the same thing at the same time. One prime example is the game HQ Trivia, a mobile based game with shows scheduled for specific times, which harkens back to the old days of scheduled game shows, except the audience all participates as contestants at the same time. You also see the rise of shared experience in gaming communities like PlayStation Network (PSN) and XBox Live, where players communicate with one another as they are playing. These elements make the game mechanics secondary to the interaction with friends, albeit in a digital medium.
The rise of the co-experience can also be seen in physical work and play. The increasing popularity of co-working spaces like WeWork, which emphasize communities over polished office space, is an example of people in digital work environments looking for real time connection. Another is the rise in popularity of collaborative games and activities like escape rooms, where a group of people tries to solve puzzles to unlock clues and eventually escape the room. In these events, even though a large percentage of people don’t ultimately “escape,” everyone gets to have a hero moment and people enjoy coming together around a specific challenge. This phenomenon is also somewhat prevalent in hackathons where groups come together to solve challenges.
Technology is not going away, but in the future we can expect an increasing number of applications that push toward more synchronous (real time) interactions. Some of this is also logical result of the overwhelming amount of digital content created every day. When there’s so much data and content, people can feel overwhelmed and a natural reaction is to gravitate to things they trust. Fortunately for humans, people are programmed with a root level of trust for other people they interact with moreso than any technology. So let’s make it real.