In the Digital Age, Are We Losing Our Ability to Enjoy Outdoor Activities?
In our screen-centric society, have we lost touch with the art of having fun beyond the confines of our homes? In this era dominated by streaming services, out-of-home leisure activities have taken a backseat to the convenience of technology. Sabine Lehmann, the Director of Curiositas and an MPhil in Futures Studies graduate from Stellenbosch Business School, emphasises the vital role of out-of-home leisure activities in an evolving landscape dominated by screens and streaming services.
The Netflix phenomenon
Living in the digital age comes with many perks, but do they come at a cost? In the era of the Netflix phenomenon, leisure activities have had a profound transformation and have fundamentally reshaped how we interact with each other, content and how we partake in entertainment.
Not so long ago, communal television was the norm, when families and friends gathered in shared spaces to engage while watching the same show. This time was often paired with shared activities during commercial breaks, such as choosing and picking snacks or brewing a quick cup of tea before the show continued.
During those days, choices were limited, which led to disagreements over channel selection and whose turn it was to have the remote. This fostered a unified at-home entertainment experience that made families engage with each other instead of going their separate ways and indulging in their favourite shows alone.
This is the case two decades later, where today’s at-home entertainment practices hardly align with the schedules of our loved ones. Instead of a family eagerly waiting for their Sunday night movie to sit down and connect while watching together, family members can now pick up multiple devices, regardless of where they are in most cases, and consume their favourite shows when it suits them.
While family members may eventually finish watching the same series over a year, the timing and devices used for viewing have become vastly diverse, even within the same household. The consumption of streaming content has taken on an asynchronous nature and instead offers individuals convenience over human connection at every turn.
The success of streaming services
Streaming services have built their success by delivering personalised, on-demand content directly to screens of choice, anytime and anywhere. They keep us engaged by recommending new shows based on our viewing history, striving to keep us glued to our screens and couches, and the algorithms are doing a great job.
In the modern era, the average American spends over seven hours online daily, with nearly two and a half hours spent streaming video, browsing YouTube, and indulging in online entertainment platforms such as Netflix, Showmax, and the like.
Simultaneously, people are increasingly averse to paying for unwatched content, leading to frequent subscription cancellations and re-subscriptions. Accessibility is also a top priority, with consumers expecting to access content on various devices, from watching on a phone between classes to enjoying a show while they commute.
The challenges faced by the leisure industry
This poses a unique challenge for the leisure industry as it strives to motivate people out of their comfort zones and out of their homes. Competing with the convenience and affordability of in-home options, museums, aquariums, theme parks, and similar attractions must entice people to step away from the comfort of their homes, which is no small feat in an era of heightened anxiety and 24/7 online connections.
When it comes to out-of-home leisure activities, individuals need to negotiate what they want to do, who they want to do it with, how they will get there, when it can happen, and what the agreed experience budget is. This is significantly different from in-home entertainment, where individuals need to make fewer decisions, primarily when algorithms feed them suggestions on what to watch next.
An opportunity for growth in the leisure industry
To envision a future where out-of-home leisure experiences rival in-home convenience goes beyond technology. With an opportunity to leverage technology to its advantage, out-of-home entertainment, such as museums, aquariums, and theme parks, could use technology to enhance its offerings by offering personalised content to visitors with the use of AI. They could also incorporate VR or AR to create immersive experiences and design experiences that cater to families asynchronously, bridging the gap between individualised at-home entertainment and shared out-of-home activities.
It’s not all about technology, though; these out-of-home entertainment venues could cater to consumers' need for convenience with monthly subscriptions, easily cancellable tickets and adjusting their opening times to 24/7. In the evolving entertainment landscape that we are in, finding new ways to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers offers opportunities for growth, no matter the industry.
The importance of out-of-home entertainment
The essence of out-of-home visits is shared adventures. Museums encourage the contemplation of unfamiliar subjects, and these experiences promote exposure to diverse content, leading to unexpected growth and connection.
Outdoor leisure experiences can captivate and surprise by engaging all five senses, encouraging face-to-face interactions, instilling the courage to explore the unknown, and fostering serendipitous moments. These experiences create simultaneous encounters that allow groups to share meaningful moments, offering rare opportunities to engage together in the same place and time.
In an era dominated by algorithm-driven content curation, out-of-home leisure providers play a vital role. They must evolve into social hubs, fostering connections with both familiar faces and strangers. This transition involves inspiring courage to embrace novel experiences, stimulating all the senses, and enabling synchronous encounters that facilitate collective participation.
As society grapples with the impact of excessive screen time on happiness and anxiety, the resurgence of out-of-home leisure experiences takes on a new significance. In an age where work and play occur within the same walls, out-of-home entertainment has the power to rejuvenate life beyond the confines of home. Its success lies in offering unique value, fulfilling desires unmet by in-home alternatives, and simplifying the decision-making process.