Many of us are exhausted from endless screen time and frustrated by limited social opportunities, but the pandemic may have inadvertently created the perfect climate for a new form of social media to thrive.
Are you longing for the connection that online interaction can bring in these socially distanced times, but suffering from strained eyes and ‘text thumb’? You’re ready for the new frontier: audio only social media.
Stop The Scroll!
Completely eschewing visual curation, video content and the written word, new apps like Clubhouse, an update of the early 2000s chatroom style experience, rely solely on audio. Its current 3500-strong membership is invite-only while in Beta testing stage, and is largely made up of Silicon Valley venture capitalists, though Oprah, Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Hart are also among this exclusive community.
Clubhouse and its contemporaries represent an exciting new frontier for social media, and a chance to rip ourselves away from our dreaded screens.
As an audio only chat room, you are encouraged to mingle as though at a party, speaking to friends and strangers and engaging on any topic you want, from exchanging tips on stocks, to discussing tv shows or finding business partnerships.
This model completely negates scrolling – very appealing to those of us with screen fatigue. The lack of a visual element also means that you can engage while grocery shopping or cleaning the bathroom, making it a handy alternative to a podcast, and one that you can talk back to! You’re able to sit back and listen, or engage as much as you want on any topic, wandering between subject themed ‘rooms’ on a whim.
Can the old guard compete?
A major plus in audio-based social media interaction is the ability to convey tone and emotion in a way that Twitter’s 140 written characters never could. This limitation was clearly on Jack Dorsey’s mind, as in June 2020, Twitter launched Audio Tweets, providing 140 seconds of audio, and are also developing Audio Spaces, a new sound-focused social platform. Facebook is also following suit, having recently added an audio-only feature to their Stories function.
Audio gives space for tone and nuance, making it easier to connect on an emotional level than via purely the written word.
It can also feel strangely intimate: like Snapchat, once a conversation is over, there is no record of it, promoting disclosure and providing a way to talk to others on any issue without having to reveal any part of your identity except your voice. Users are free to upload a profile picture if they wish, but other than that, there is no visual element.
The battle for audio domination
Already valued at £75million, Clubhouse appears to be the front runner in a battle to dominate this new territory in the mainstream, but it’s far from the only explorer of audio-first social media. Discord, an audio-only platform launched in 2015 specifically for gamers, has this year rebranded. Their new tagline, ‘Your place to talk’, attempts to appeal to a much wider user base. They currently have 100 million users worldwide: no longer solely a tool to plan your raids with your teammates on Call of Duty, or trash talk your opponent.
So… what’s the catch?
The rise of audio-centred social media brings new challenges – moderation and censorship may be harder in this medium, and inclusivity can be challenging. Lack of captioning in these spaces is a huge barrier to participation for deaf and hard of hearing users. Twitter has recently added transcriptions to Audio Tweets, and Discord is screen reader compatible, but while Clubhouse remains in Beta stage with only a small number of members, it currently does not offer any such features. Let’s hope this is remedied on its wider roll out.
Clubhouse and its contemporaries represent an exciting new frontier for social media; not only a chance to rip ourselves away from our dreaded screens, but also a progressive democratisation of the airwaves. A medium once gatekept by AM/FM radio broadcast professionals, then opened up to a DIY world of podcast creatives, and now, through these new platforms, hypothetically open to anyone, a much wider demographic is encouraged to have a voice in the conversation.