Socialising is one of the hallmarks of the human race. In fact, our ‘grouping’ behaviour, which arose around 52m years ago, is often cited as one of the reasons why our species has been so successful. It might seem odd, then, that the number of Brits who are socialising has declined, with estimates from a Sainsbury’s poll suggesting that 9.1% of people prefer to socialise online.

The Humble Chatroom

There may be any number of reasons for the previous statistics but the internet is arguably one of the main causes. The concept of virtual socialising, i.e. talking to people over the internet, has become embedded in all sorts of things recently. Even the traditionally hall-based hobby of bingo has made its way into the digital domain. The daily free bingo at Paddy Power has incorporated a chat box to keep players talking.

Hobbies such as bingo seem to be especially well suited to virtual socialising because they attract a dedicated community. In the latter case, Paddy Power’s bingo chat is where some of the company’s offers are shared, providing an incentive for players to stick around. The rise of platforms like Twitch, where people can watch others go about their hobbies, has also helped reintroduce the humble chatroom to the internet.

Of course, the centrepiece of virtual socialisation is social media, which, while allowing people to make plans off the internet, also ensures that they never actually have to go anywhere to keep in touch with friends and family. According to a Vox writer in 2018, this desire to stay at home forged something called the homebody economy, where disposable income is saved for domestic things, like decorating.

“Decade of the Home”

Why are we falling out of love with real-life socialising? The obvious problem for people who want to socialise is that occasions tend to be structured around one particular activity or another. A 2020 study from Accenture revealed that 69% of people asked were only interested in visiting houses, including their own, or talking online.

The bigger problem for social butterflies seems to be modern ways of working, which either consume our earthly hours on the commute and in the office or steal them away via webcam applications like Zoom. In both cases, the time (and energy) left for socialising outside work can seem minimal. Accenture referred to the combined influence of all the above as fostering a “decade of the home”.

What may seem surprising is that there’s not much wrong with this new way of living. Two studies mentioned by Psychology Today suggested that we have a social battery that becomes exhausted after “several” social meetings a month, although, regular contact with other humans is associated with a better quality of life.

Overall, people are enjoying their time at home more, and as technology and entertainment develop to match this change in habits, so will the ways people choose to spend their time, make friends, and build communities.