LBEs role in the epidemic of loneliness and isolation

Jim Kessler, the owner of Lasertron, a manufacturer of laser tag, axe throwing, and electronic darts, and the owner of two Lasertron LBEs, recently posted a very thoughtful article discussing the epidemic of loneliness and isolation and whether out-of-home entertainment venues (LBEs) can be designed to significantly reduce loneliness and isolation. The article is definitely worth a read (article link).

One of the points Jim makes in the article is that the increasing time people spend in the addictive digital world on social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, on subscription video services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and on digital games is directly sucking up time that people have to engage in face-to-face social bonding experiences that can strengthen their connections with their friends, family, and members of their community to combat loneliness and isolation. He believes this includes the digital world, which takes away time to gather face-to-face with people they know and meet new people at LBEs.

Jim also discusses how LBE operators need to become part of the solution and how they can achieve that by designing LBEs to maximize opportunities for humans to gather face-to-face to bond with their friends, family, and community members.

Time spent alone increases with age, with ages 21 to 42 spending between four and five hours alone per day (244 to 298 minutes) to ages 58 and older spending 6.67 hours+ per day alone per day (400+ minutes.)

A research paper published in SSM - Population Health found that between 2003 and 2019, there were "overall increases in time spent alone and overall decreases in time spent with family, friends, others (roommates, neighbors, acquaintances, coworkers, clients, etc.), and in companionship." It found that people were spending an increase of 24 minutes per day alone.

First, we will examine data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) of whether a core target demographic for most LBEs, young adults ages 20 to 34, are spending more time in the digital world and whether that is decreasing their time visiting location-based entertainment and art venues. The ATUS has data through 2022. However, due to the pandemic's impact on out-of-home activity, even into 2022, we will compare the averages for 2006/2007 with the last two years before the pandemic, 2018/2019. The ATUS data is broken down for ages 20-24 and 25-34.

There was a significant change in participation over the 12 years, with participation in digital games and screens for leisure increasing and participation attending and hosting events, socializing in person, and attendance at location-based entertainment and art venues decreasing.

Looking at time spent on an average day by everyone in those age groups tells a different story. Ages 20 to 24 saw a 15-minute increase in digital games and screens (games and digital screens for leisure +21 minutes less 6 minutes less for television). The net gain for ages 25-35 was only two minutes.

Both age groups saw a decrease in in-person socialization, supporting the increase in loneliness, which is the central premise for Jim's article. (In-person socialization comprises the two categories "attending and hosting social events" and "socializing with people not at events).

It appears that younger Americans spend less time with other people because they spend more time with their digital games and screens for leisure.

Participation at LBEs and art venues has decreased over the 12 years, while the average time on the average day for the two age groups has hardly changed. This indicates that attendance at these venues has declined while those attending have increased the time they spend at them.

There can be little doubt that if LBE operators can increase the number and frequency of people coming to their LBEs with family, friends, or colleagues, it will help the loneliness epidemic. The recent emergence and growth of social gaming (eatertainment) venues indicate that people, especially the young adult market they primarily target, are seeking in-person socialization.

The challenge for LBEs is to create experiences that can bring people together who might not otherwise do so, as well as create experiences that are attractive/compelling enough for people who have experienced them to want to do them again. The competition is no longer other LBEs; it's the convenience and low cost of the digital screen.

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