GHH Gets Mention in the Wall Street Journal 

Out of Office: Job Loss in the Age of Blogs and Twitter

Out of Office: Job Loss in the Age of Blogs and Twitter

By Nick Wingfield and Pui-Wing Tam
February 3, 2009

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123362401231641879.html

(Check out the last three paragraphs)

It's been decades since Americans had this much time on their hands and -- thanks to the Web -- never have there been so many opportunities to burn it.

In November, Julia Otto was headed to her first day on a new job, car keys in hand, as an administrative assistant with a New Orleans construction company when her phone rang. Her position was eliminated before she even started.

Now, when she's not sending out resumes or doing household chores, the 43-year-old spends several hours a day playing games. Her favorite is an adventure-puzzle game called "Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst," where she hunts for clues inside a spooky mansion to unlock a mystery. She spends about $7 a month playing games on the Big Fish Games site.

"They're an affordable way to help forget," says Ms. Otto. "It's not soap operas and chocolate."

As Americans -- grappling with layoffs and grim economic news -- try to find ways to fill their time, the Internet is helping people with job searches. But the medium is performing another important role: a social anesthesia that distracts people from the stress of unemployment.

As the nation grapples with rising layoffs and grime economic news, more and more people are escaping by goofing off online

Internet games, gambling and other forms of online entertainment have seen significant surges in use in the several months since the economic downturn deepened. Social-networking services like Facebook, blogs and discussion forums -- all well-known time sinks even during good times -- are also seeing strong growth. Some purveyors of online entertainment say business has never been so good for them.

Robert Kraut, a professor of social psychology and human computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, says games and other forms of entertainment can provide escape for people steeped in anxieties about the economy. "There's evidence these distractions have a psychological benefit because they prevent a downward spiral of rumination," says Dr. Kraut.

The trend echoes the escape mechanisms that people turned to during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

At the time, people paid a nickel to spend entire afternoons and evenings watching films featuring Charlie Chaplin and others, cartoons and newsreels, says Gary Handman, a director at the Media Resources Center at the University of California at Berkeley.

Mr. Handman believes the Internet is assuming a similar role now in part because of how relatively inexpensive it is compared with, say, a $10 movie ticket that buys only a couple of hours of entertainment, even though movie attendance is strong. "The Internet, in particular, has blown everything else away," Mr. Handman says. "People are getting their entertainment for free wherever they can."

Many online entertainment categories were seeing steady growth even before the economy took a turn for the worse a few months ago, and public interest in the November U.S. presidential election also drove traffic to online video, social networking and other sites. But the sudden rise in usage in some online categories at the end of the year stands out from past growth trends.

The number of visitors to online game sites jumped 29.9% during the fourth quarter of last year, compared with a 0.3% decline during the same period the prior year, according to comScore Inc. Traffic on Internet gambling sites soared 28.6% over the holiday quarter, compared with a 26.9% decline over the holiday season the previous year, comScore says.

Others find comfort in new friendships forged in unemployment. Prior to October, Cara Wayman, 27, spent very little time online. With her full-time job at a nursing home as a nurse assistant and as a part-time student studying for a sociology-psychology degree, the resident of Lynn, Mass., says she only logged in online two to three times a week for 15 minutes a pop. But in October, Ms. Wayman was laid off from her nursing-home job and she now spends five hours a day online. When she wants to switch off entirely, Ms. Wayman plays Sudoku and other games "to step out of reality," she says.

But much of her time is spent job seeking on social-networking sites and even the "General Hospital Happenings" forum for denizens of the daytime television soap opera. Her interactions quickly evolved from just job-searching to online friendships. "It's kind of like a support group," she says. "I refresh pages a billion times" to see if people have replied to my posts, says Ms. Wayman. All of this time spent online is "kind of embarrassing," she says.

She's not alone. Shirley Condon of Colleyville, Texas, runs the General Hospital forum and says the economy has reshaped the tone and purpose of the discussions. The stay-at-home mother of two teenage daughters says the number of visits to the forum has surged from last year. More and more of the recent postings in the forum have been about the economy, rather than "General Hospital," says Ms. Condon.

"A lot of the people have lost their jobs and can't afford counseling so they're coming on the site and asking, 'How do I handle it?' " she says. "People are frantic. There's more drama in real life now for sure than on the TV."