Trends of 2012: Solitude

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The “always on” culture that has abruptly emerged as the new norm is here to stay for some time. A recent piece from The New York Times demonstratively stated, “Solitude is out of fashion,” elaborating with analysis of the trending open-space work environments and team-based strategies. This contemporary approach is counter to extensive research touting the benefits of privacy in creative thinking. This culture has been fiercely fueled by the (my) millennial generation and has gained significant acceptance by baby boomers. We have grown up in an age of digital collaboration; now we’re applying these same tendencies to the office place despite making ourselves susceptible to real-life distractions.

We all know the natural, yet rude, tendency to prioritize instant information from our smartphones over the people actually in the room. This was never more evident to me than Christmas this year. I never thought I would see the day my parents were playing Words with Friends before me. I certainly didn’t expect they would become addicted to the game instantaneously. Prior to this, my mom was notorious for leaving her cell phone in the bottom of her purse - for days on end. To her, it was a device to make calls; not for her to be alert for incoming calls. It’s becoming ever-apparent those days are over and never to be seen again. She’s texting, emailing, playing games, reading books, and verifying bets with my father through Google.

Despite the added convenience at our fingertips, it can become overwhelming – like a menu at The Cheesecake Factory. Thus, people are increasingly more than willing to pay a premium for solitude – the ability to escape the constant draining buzz. Trend Watching explains,

This isn’t about consumers rejecting everything that brought them to the city, but about a temporary breather. Remember, no trend applies all of the time. People will forever crave the excitement and choice available in cities; yet still want to escape for a moment.

In 2011 some brands were ahead of the curve in offering a moment of solace to their consumers. These early adopters compete in industries where such services are appreciated due to the high stress in their corresponding environments. Some examples:

• In July 2011, Telia, a Swedish telecom provider, launched a free app that enabled customers to disable internet for set period of time at home. They also set up internet-free zones in several public locations across Sweden. (

• In September 2011, at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, Sleepbox launched a small self-contained cabin designed to give users a quiet place to get some rest. (

• From July to September 2011, the Marriott Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel offered “Zen and the Art of Detox” – a weekend package that obliged visitors to surrender any digital devices when checking-in. Also, rooms were stocked with books instead of televisions. (

Brands that, by virtue of their product or service, must compete in a mentally fatiguing space, can embrace the opportunity by providing a counter experience like the examples above. However, most brands do not need to provide such overt forms of relief; they can bake it in to the actual product. Pandora Radio is an example of a highly appreciated, passive user interface. Listeners have one less thing to think about as the stream is designed to anticipate their tastes. Pinterest, with an extremely intuitive user experience and strong social integration, provides a similar release. The mindless nature of pinning offers a pleasurable distraction from daily stressors.

Facebook, in the short term, offers a similar mental release. In fact, thirty-year psychology veteran, Susan Weinschenk, found that the brain releases dopamine upon receiving notifications of Facebook updates or status changes. In contrast, Facebook has become an eclectic badge of social currency - check-in’s, relationships, flattering pictures, and job title changes; thus truly adding up to social noise. As we become desensitized to social updates we look for other sources of immediate reward like Twitter, Reddit, and sites like Wimp and YouTube.

At the agency I work for, we have a former Buddhist monk who spent six years on a silent sabbatical in Burma. You read that right…he didn’t speak for six years. He trains employees to practice mindfulness and stress-relieving routines they can implement on a daily basis. In one session, he explained that humans are naturally hard-wired to respond in a “fight or flight” manner. This was an essential tool for survival when humans first roamed the earth. Despite our evolution over time, we still react in a similar manner to alerts, texts, emails, calls, green lights, our significant other calling our name, and so on. We’ve been conditioned to believe that an immediate response is expected, and a delayed response has become an indication of a lower priority. In this new social norm we’ve set ourselves up to strive, long-term, toward solitude…or pay a lofty price to have it right here, right now, between our 2:00 and 2:45 meetings. Regardless, this will be something to watch in 2012 – an opportunity to make your brand the hero.

As an account manager in Boulder, Dorsey has worked on global and national campaigns for brands like Microsoft and Groupon. Read more of his posts where he blogs at And this....


Pretty good insight. Building upon the notion of human evolution, I believe that our society fluctuates in a reactionary way. We built this always-on world ourselves and now we're screaming for a way out.


As always, appreciate to content.

Hey Chris,
good observations; seems like in certain circles there's been more backlash lately against multi-tasking and the culture of distraction. But of course, working in advertising, it's our job to figure out how to sell in relation to any trend, and you made that connection as well. Keep it up!

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