Isolation. Seems like we should have conquered that by now. With all our high tech tools, friending, connecting and tweeting, how can anybody be lonely anymore? Yet isolation and loneliness are real problems, burdening people who struggle with the ordinary stresses of life, and exacerbating mental and physical illnesses.
The Internet is not a solution to all our problems, it’s a tool (or set of tools) that can be used well or poorly to accomplish what we need to do. Two internet pioneers who are trying to figure out a new way to address an old problem: loneliness. Daniel and Benjamin have set up the site Campfire to bring small groups together around a common problem or issue that they want to discuss. Groups are private and anonymous and are matched up by time zone and the life issue they want to discuss together. Some examples are grief, trauma, relationship issues, eating disorders, recovery from abuse and the like.
The moderators form the group of 5 to 10 members, and lead weekly video chat sessions and also allow members to connect at any time for sharing or check-ins. Each group is a closed entity, so that members can bond with each other – newcomers are organized into new groups as they join. Participants have commented that bonding to group members is working very successfully in this model – some even prefer the video chat format to a face-to-face meeting.
Accessibility is a big part of this model, since anyone with an internet connection can join in, but there are other benefits as well. Participating in a Campfire group helps members learn how to discuss their issues openly. “[Campfire] has been a springboard for new conversations about my mental health offline” says one member. It also helps to normalize experiences: “I enjoy hearing about the experiences of other group members. I’m surprised by how similar they are to mine. Knowing you’re not alone is powerful,” says another.
Already in the pilot phase, this model seems to be getting some powerful results. With careful moderation and management, it could become an important and useful approach for a wide variety of needs and concerns.