The Weekly Stripe 12.03.21
Weak social ties and the third places where we would meet them have been major casualties of the COVID 19 pandemic. Our social sphere has shrunk into our homes and down to our closest family and friends. Nearly a year in to the UK's first stay at home order, we look into what we've been missing and how we've been seeking new third places in our online interactions.
Amanda Mull writes about what we’ve lost without our casual friends and acquaintances. These weak ties are not just sources of new information, connections and opportunities, but also play a significant role in our sense of wellbeing. As Amanda observes, “Peripheral connections tether us to the world at large; without them, people sink into the compounding sameness of closed networks.” Her hope is that having spent time without them, we will value our weak ties more as they come back into our lives over the next few months.
Meanwhile An Xiao Mina has found Clubhouse can provide a new third place online to connect with weak ties. “If Zoom and Slack are where we spend our working days, Clubhouse is like hitting up the bar after work. It’s the bar, the meet-up, the networking event, the party, all wrapped up into one. For me, video chat has become a place for work, and the audio-only quality of Clubhouse makes it more relaxing and casual.” And sometimes it doesn’t even require talking. An Xiao Mina reflects on how a silent meditation group has met a need for ambient sociality through simple co-presence with others.
In his epic analysis of TikTok, Eugene Wei observes how comments have become integral to appreciating TikTok videos, “just as talent shows like The Voice require both contestants and voices to work, more and more it feels as if the TikTok experience is about watching the performers and then listening to the judges (all of us viewers) render their opinions via the comments”. By fostering a sense of shared experience and connection, TikTok comments produce a form of sociality akin to being part of an audience, albeit asynchronously.
The pandemic may have further intensified emerging trends in how we interact online. Matt Webb remarks on the ongoing migration of people to semi-private communities like Slack and Discord, as opposed to participating in the promiscuously public social internet typified by Facebook and Twitter. He posits that the optimum size of these “virtual private neighbourhoods” might conform to Dunbar’s number (~150) but this may only be true if people’s purpose is to build stable social connections. How might the optimum size fluctuate if the needs these communities serve are to develop our weak ties and a looser set of social relationships?
It’s not just ways to connect with strangers and acquaintances that we miss without physical places to socialise. It’s also simply the feeling of being around others. If you’re missing the vibe and ambiance of the pub, check out I Miss My Bar an audio project that lets you fill your living room with the clink of glasses and background chatter of many voices. It might just tide you over until real pubs and bars are open again.