Think Forward 2024: The Offline Internet
Yesterday, we held a LinkedIn Live to discuss Offline Internet – a trend in our recently released report, Think Forward: The Social Reckoning. As the power balance between online and offline is shifting, people expect greater interplay between worlds – to hear more about the trend, click here to watch Valentina Turrini, Research & Insights Analyst, discuss the meaning of Offline Internet, and its significance in shaping social in 2024.
‘Mmmmm, ice cream so good, *slurp, slurp*, yes yes yes!’ As of late 2023, this semi-coherent phrase is familiar to anyone on social; its speaker, the uncanny femme-bot PinkyDoll, a household name. PinkyDoll’s controversial fame comes from her expertise at pretending to be an NPC, or ‘non-player character’ – the automated, soulless characters that populate the backdrop of video games. And she’s not alone.
NPCs are just one example of the ways that physical and digital worlds, people and characters, reality and fiction are blending together. The jumbotron at a Drake concert is sifted through ‘crying face’ AR, making an offline event look like a TikTok filter. Offline parties and events are being themed around niche internet in-jokes, making real life look like a live meme. The idea that there was a binary between social media and ‘real life’ was already unconvincing, but now, it’s more blurred than ever.
In today’s world, characters, communities, and behaviours born on the internet are moving seamlessly into offline worlds, and this interplay isn’t just tolerated – it’s expected.
Among social’s most fluent users, friendship and storylines don’t need to play out end-to-end online. Online worlds are expected to have much more active interplay with offline ones – whether that’s using digital communities to inform, expand, and guide offline interpersonal bonding, or using the blurred divide between reality and fiction to inspire new creative work, as with the wealth of AI content showing real-world celebs in surreal situations.
Across the board, whatever purpose social was serving – kinship, entertainment, self-expression – it’s now at its best when it’s breaking down the boundaries between worlds, not respecting them.
The behavioural change
People are using online niches to underpin IRL gatherings.
Offline, loneliness is endemic and making new friends isn’t always easy – but online, digital natives are highly skilled at finding niche communities, sharing in an in-joke, and bonding over fandoms. Now, users are leveraging the shared language, interests, and etiquette they’ve learnt online to construct offline communities and IRL hangs. Fans of creator @depthsofwikipedia bond online over their esoteric internet humour, but the Perpetual Stew hangout – a Brooklyn-based get-together to celebrate a TikTok in-joke about Hungarian stew – used the shared norms of internet humour to enable offline bonding.
Influencers are removing the final barrier between themselves and their followings.
Sites like TrovaTrip are not just helping influencers travel the world and promote new products – their communities can come along for the ride, too. Offering “group adventures in over 50 countries planned by locals, hosted by creators, and made for everyone,” the travel agent is just one example of influencers and their followings no longer maintaining parasocial distance, but instead seeking to share in authentic moments together.
People are unafraid to blend IRL and URL to make new creative work.
Both major artists and everyday users are treating the fine line between fact and fiction as ground zero for content and creativity. Drake satirically integrated Snapchat’s iconic ‘crying face’ AR Filter into his live performance of ‘Laugh Now, Cry Later’, turning the faces in the crowd into weeping faces – generating millions of views and earned media for his blurring of real and fake, online and off. MSCHF’s Big Red Boots are too smooth to be true, designed to bring an aesthetic seen in virtual worlds into offline reality. And the 11 billion views of #NPC content, in which real-life people act like mindless video game characters, shows the widespread resonance of creative work addressing the IRL-URL blur.
Read more about Offline Internet and the four other trends in Think Forward: The Social Reckoning.