In March 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK government imposed social and physical distancing measures on the population. The lockdown caused significant changes to all aspects of daily life. During this time, we decided to adjust our work priorities to research how people’s lives and use of technology and media were changing under lockdown.
In this third and final post of the series, we present our findings. You can read about our rationale and methodology for the study in part one and our design process for the data postcard cultural probes in part two.
A reminder of the three groups we chose to study:
- 18-30 year-olds from low socio-economic groups, with high representation from BAME communities.
- Households with multiple generations under one roof: children, parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles.
- Vulnerable & isolated populations: those who were shielding for age or health reasons, people over 70, people with accessibility needs/disabilities, and people living alone.
From across all participants of different ages and circumstances, we observed some common behaviours and attitudes.
Lack of control was a big cause of distress, being unable to control aspects of their own lives and not knowing when lockdown would end led to frustration and helplessness. Staying busy and productive brought a sense of satisfaction and helped to keep people’s minds on other things.
There was a greater awareness of the value of relationships as a result of relying on each other more for mutual support. Technology-enabled people to maintain and improve ties with their existing network, regardless of location, which meant there was no major increase or investment in local communities. However, valuable aspects of social connection, that are about physicality and presence are limited by technology.
While everyone was stuck inside and concerned about the news, people needed more help to unwind and escape reality. Low effort and low commitment TV programmes were valued, and some were re-watching old programmes for comfort and nostalgia.
An over-saturation of news at the beginning of the pandemic made people anxious and led to a reduction in consumption to protect their moods.
The free time afforded in lockdown allowed this group to slow down and focus more on their mental and physical wellbeing. A slower and more balanced lifestyle is something they wanted to continue in the future. This cohort used the extra time wisely, prioritising growing themselves and focusing on self-development, learning new skills and pursuing new hobbies.
The pandemic has made the job market uncertain, and this group are worried about the impact this has on their careers, job security and the future of their profession/industry. Some had lost their jobs because of the pandemic, and others experienced job delays and uncertainty.
The pandemic has highlighted the value of real relationships over superficial ones on social media. Participants expressed gratitude for their friends’ support and empathy and actively reconnected with old friends.
A lack of shared, real-life experiences meant a focus, like a game or a quiz, was helpful on video calls to provide a topic of conversation beyond the virus or the weather as it offered some structure and a set of rules to follow. Synced media experiences were popular with those trying to maintain relationships. Participants would try a variety of ways to sync playback, and some even ordered food from the same restaurant to enhance the experience of being together.
Generally, this cohort had a more positive attitude to lockdown than expected, and people expressed an appreciation for what they had. Those who were able to work from home appreciated the increased time with family and young children were associated with moments of joy.
To accommodate homeworking, homeschooling, or both, people made better use of previously underused or unused parts of their homes. Working on home improvements also helped combat boredom and stress, providing an element of control and achievement.
Families had adult children and elderly parents returning home; some had four generations in their household. Like the other groups, moods could still be volatile, particularly with the increased numbers, and they looked to media, exercise, small wins, and treats to manage and raise mood.
Lockdown and loss prompted some to reflect on and strengthen their own health and finances in light of others they were supporting.
Vulnerable & isolated participants
Older and more isolated people experienced a greater negative impact on their moods. For older people and those with long term health conditions, day-to-day in lockdown didn’t look that different to normal and as a result, this group didn’t take up as many new hobbies or habits. Lack of face-to-face contact and physical touch was felt more keenly by those living on their own or who were generally more isolated due to poor health or age.
As lockdown stopped local community support groups from meeting, some in this cohort were finding and spending more time interacting with newfound digital communities. Social and educational activities moving online also improved access by removing the barrier of a physical commute.
Older participants were getting particularly nostalgic. They were watching old films and TV shows, listening to “old school classics” and reminiscing about periods of history they have lived through.
Those who were more vulnerable and isolated were worried about what news sources they can and cannot trust and were anxious about fake news. Some expressed that they felt more informed by watching or listening to long-form, investigative journalism and documentary pieces via TV, film, radio or podcast.
This was a four-week study run in June 2020 (about three months after lockdown started) and the stark reality of the restrictions had a clear impact on the participant’s behaviours and outlook.
People expressed the importance of staying busy and feeling productive, with many of the younger group using the extra time to focus on self-development. The role of family and relationships with friends became increasingly important, and technology was valued in enabling this connection. In the face of increasingly negative news stories, people were choosing media to help them to escape and unwind, often seeking nostalgic content.
So what next? We will draw insights from this study to inform further work in BBC Research & Development around people’s behaviours and needs. There are opportunities to explore communal and shared media experiences, and we’ve already made explorations in synced media with BBC Together. Audience needs for escapism and nostalgia could inform interesting areas of research. And finally, how do we shape digital communities which retain the valuable aspects of social connections, namely the physicality and presence of others? Answers on a postcard, please...
This post is part of the Internet Research and Future Services section