Sunday, 12th July 2020

COVID-19: Why life’s better when apps create communities

Throughout the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic, news reports have offered a grim picture, with very few reports offering a view of how many people are beating the virus. The focus is on the saddening increase in the number of deaths. Now, as of May 2020, there are signs that the virus is abating. Lockdowns are being relaxed in some countries, too. However, despite this, the virus continues to increase the death toll. The long-term impact of the pandemic on jobs, businesses, education, health and wellbeing will change our day to day lives and how we communicate. By Graham Jarvis, Freelance Business and Technology Journalist.

Gabriel Mulko, a co-founder of Leepse comments: “Keeping up with the news all day will make your anxiety and stress level skyrocket, especially in the last couple of months. The media has a massive impact on people’s behaviour and fears. Talk about AIDS to anyone aged 30 years or younger, they will tell you how scared they are to be diagnosed HIV positive. Talk about meningitis to anyone aged 30 years or younger, they’ll tell you they’re not scared of it. Why? Meningitis can be much deadlier than AIDS, but the campaigns on AIDS have been everywhere for as long as I can remember.”

Regarding Covid-19, many parts of the world see little prospect of life returning to normal, with people talking about a new normal. Even if certain aspects of the lockdowns in each affected country, such as the one in the UK, are relaxed this month, the shadow of the virus will remain. Governments fear a second wave of the coronavirus, and so are likely to enforce a multi-stage approach to relaxing regulations designed to reduce the infection rate.

People and businesses, as Mulko suggests, are still finding it hard and frustrating to be unable to plan the future like they did before the pandemic. People look forward to the spring and summer each year, but this year is unique in that nobody knows whether or not they will be able to get on the flight they booked for family holidays, forcing airlines, for example, to make employees and staff redundant.

Connecting online communities

However, thanks to technology, online communities can be created to offer friendship, comfort, reassurance and positivity, especially as a problem shared is a problem halved. Beyond the gloom, it’s good to talk to like-minded others to brighten the day. Life is better when everyone shares their struggle, and communities and apps such as Leepse offer a positive step forward by connecting people to bring them together – not just in this time of crisis, but at any point in their lives.

“This lockdown will have lingering consequences on the mental health of some people who can’t take the mental strains of being in lockdown for so long. There will be a lot of grieving, and people will need support and empathy”, says Mulko.For this reason, many people will be seeking to share their triumphs and their struggles. As humans we are after all, as Aristotle said, a social animal. No matter how hard we try to isolate ourselves, our instinct is to reach out to others.”

Mulko adds: “Greeks like Aristotle exploited the full emotional potential of art to purge themselves from negative feelings, such as fear or pity. They called it Catharsis. Now, today, we’re being forced to stay at home, and socially distance ourselves from our peers. Our only escape is to connect with people digitally.” Technology enables this at a time of social distancing, which will continue when the lockdowns are eased, to bring us all together as one or several online communities.

“Socially speaking, before Covid-19, people were combining online and offline interactions. During the lockdown, the online interactions had to fill in the gap to make up for this lack of physical contact and real-life interactions; and from what we can tell, apps and online communities are doing a great job”, he says. Due to the lockdown, Leepse has seen a significant increase in average user session times.

He therefore believes that the lockdown, and the self-isolating effects, create an opportunity for app developers “to build strong online communities that can act as a safety net in times like this.” At present, the most engaging apps are the ones that offer some relief from gloominess of the media reports of the pandemic. They are entertaining, and yet there are also online therapies seeing an increase in usage. “The real winners are the ones providing a moment of escape from all the trauma: People need to laugh, relax and think of anything but COVID-19”, claims Mulko.

He also finds that “hardships in the 21st century are always the source of great technological advances, and we perform better when we feel the urge to innovate.” Regarding the pandemic, Mulko believes everyone is in it together and that there is no stronger bond than joining together to support each other through the tough times and later on through the good ones. He adds: “It’s part of our identity and it always will be. In 30 years, we’ll be talking about the year 2020 and the quarantine. Because of this, we’ll feel closer to people who before were strangers to us. We now have a common experience with every human being on this planet.”

Sense of belonging

“Communities provide a sense of belonging, and highly personalised communities, such as Leepse, give a feeling of being amongst your peers, meeting new people who were meant to become your friends. We give them the opportunity to socialise with new people who’ll make their lives more thrilling, and whom they’ll hopefully meet in person when the crisis is over. There is a constant need for people who have a common interest or shared “characteristics” to build a community."

Mulko explains: “Online communities are designed for everyone, yet they can give us a strong feeling of loneliness. Whereas with Leepse, we are enabled to overcome it, with the support of an empathetic community. It is much easier to find a community with a shared interest online than offline. But then youneed to create a sense of belonging.” The goal of Leepse is to create online communities based on offline behaviours to ensure that people feel that they belong.”

He adds: “For example, why would you want to meet someone you talked to on a random Reddit group like ‘Showerthoughts’? They have nothing in common with you apart from their sense of humour, maybe. That’s what’s limiting in today’s online communities, they don’t represent real-life interests or issues. Leepse’s online community topics are as authentic as real-life scenarios. Leepse users are developing real relationships and are desperate to grab a coffee or dinner with a like-minded friend when the lockdown ends.”

The Showerthoughts group on Reddit says its purpose is for “sharing those miniature epiphanies you have that highlight the oddities within the familiar.” One topic is entitled at length, ‘Arguing with dumb people actually makes you smarter as you have to find simpler ways to explain yourself, which expands your grasp on the subject.’ Apart from whether someone would have anything in common with the author of this post, the tone is far off from being about empathy, support and community.

Offering support

Online communities can help people to bolster their health and wellbeing – not just during a pandemic. For example, in the early days of Leepse, many users were suffering from eating disorders. Mulko says,"the support Leepseprovided users was amazing, as each individual had a strong and specific element in common and were able to easily connect and find common ground in shared experiences.

Users get the most relevant advice, are encouraged to make the right decisions, join the most fascinating conversations, all while boosting personal well-being.” People, after all, need a space away from the hustle and bustle of life:a space where you can have fun and where you can share and grow. More importantly, Leepse provides a secure space to be anonymous or be yourself.Leepse eliminates the useless small talk and the people you don’t identify with.

The new normal

“Right now, we all crave physical interactions, meeting people, hugging, kissing and being physically connected. We took for granted our social life pre-pandemic”, he rightly says.

Mulko concludes that, “the long-term impact on people’s social lives during the Covid-19 pandemic will be remembered by us all. The digitalisation of the workplace is taking place before our eyes and the same is happening with our social lives. So, even after the pandemic, people will still seek digital solutions to meet and socialise with new friends.”

Life is better when people can meet new people and talk about their struggles, their triumphs and their ideas. When we keep challenging moments and thoughts to ourselves, it can have a damaging long term impact. By sharing, people can learn from others, finding new ways to keep motivated during these extreme challenges to our natural social being.

By talking to people who get your life experience, who know what it’s like to be in your shoes, potential heartbreaking situations and impacts on personal health and wellbeing can be avoided. Isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and worse. By connecting with apps like Leepse,there are new opportunities to expand your social circle during lockdown and post-lockdown, making life better for all of us, as part of an engaging and supportive community.

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