In the May issue of Convene, we cover loneliness, a health issue that has come to be called an epidemic. Globally, the World Health Organization now lists social support networks as one of the factors determining health, and as our story points out, last year the U.K. appointed a minister for loneliness, making it a public health priority.
It may seem that we are straying from our area of expertise by devoting space to this public health issue in Convene. But I think the problem of loneliness has a very direct connection to the work that we do. By their very nature, business events bring people together, face to face. But we can’t expect that the act of convening individuals will ameliorate loneliness on its own. As business events strategists, we have to engineer gatherings in ways that help people connect meaningfully, and this month’s story has some suggestions about how to do that.
Why are so many lonely today? Many experts point to how much time we spend on our screens versus how much time we spend face to face. In “Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good,” a recent New York Times article, technology reporter Nellie Bowles writes that “life for anyone but the very rich — the physical experience of learning, living, and dying — is increasingly mediated by screens.”
Technology for the masses is a huge societal change that has taken place in a short amount of time. Since the 1980s personal computer boom, Bowles writes, owning technology was a sign of wealth. “Early adopters with disposable income rushed to get the newest gadgets and show them off,” she writes. The first Apple Mac, which shipped in 1984, cost the equivalent of $6,000 in today’s dollars, whereas the very best Chromebook laptop now costs under $500. The article underscores how screens now provide a cheap alternative to human interaction.
Bowles interviewed Milton Pedraza, the chief executive of the Luxury Institute, which advises companies on how the wealthiest citizens want to live and spend, “and what he has found is that the wealthy want to spend on anything human.” What we are seeing now, Pedraza told Bowles, “is the luxurification of human engagement.”
The spend on experiences such as travel and dining is outpacing the purchase of goods, according to the Luxury Institute’s research. Pedraza attributes this to something of a tech backlash. Today, he said, “education, health care, stores, everyone, is starting to look at how to make experiences human. The human is very important right now.”
There could be no better time to be in the business events industry. We’re in the human experience business, and what we have on offer — to physically bring people together to learn and to connect — isn’t limited to the wealthy.
Speaking of bringing people together, I invite you to join us in Los Angeles for PCMA’s annual Education Conference, June 25–28. From a hackathon on how the business events industry can help conquer homelessness to creating programming content that resonates with all kinds of learners, EduCon will help you elevate your skills while elevating the role we can take in transforming society. For a preview, read Deputy Editor Barbara Palmer’s interview with keynote speaker Sara Ross.