In logistics, the “last mile” of a delivery--the distance between a product or service’s final distribution outlet and its ultimate destination--is typically the most expensive and, in many cases, the most complex to solve. Companies such as Amazon, UPS, and FedEx have been lauded for their innovative and efficient approaches to conquering the last mile, yet it remains a confounding problem. Just ask anyone who has had an important package stolen or arrive several days late.

The final mile concept isn’t limited to logistics, however. Social platforms are also trying to figure out how to get their users to interact in person in order to strengthen bonds that were often initiated and developed digitally. And it isn’t only tech giants like Facebook and Pinterest that are interested in learning how to turn digital communities into analog ones. Companies including Lincoln are also looking at how technology can bring people together in the flesh. “Technology is a great connection enabler,” says Becca Anderson, client experience manager at Lincoln. “But I don’t think anything replaces the human, personal connection.”

Lincoln has been focusing on both sides of the digital-physical divide in order to provide such a connection, starting with the moment clients purchase a new vehicle and continuing long after they’ve driven off the lot. The luxury automaker has put an emphasis on giving clients back their time, an increasingly precious commodity as our busy schedules and endless obligations impinge on moments of face-to-face interactions. On the tech side, Lincoln has bolstered connectivity by integrating time-saving services such as Waze and Lincoln+Alexa* into its automobiles. But it is also committed to personal gestures like providing loaner vehicles to clients whose cars are undergoing maintenance as well as pick-up and drop-off service during these times. It’s a two-pronged approach that represents what Anderson calls the “Lincoln way.”

“That’s something we talk a lot about,” Anderson told the audience during a panel entitled “Making Connections that Matter” at the fourth annual Fast Company Innovation Festival on October 25. “It’s about the importance of that personal connection, and how we can make it human--and thinking about how our vehicles can enable those kind of connections.”

As the festival panel demonstrated, other companies and entrepreneurs are thinking about those very same issues. Representatives from Pinterest and Sparked, a board game designed to inspire social good, discussed how they’re approaching the last mile of human connection.


Sometimes, finding your tribe is as easy as a few clicks of a mouse or taps on a phone. As Andy Holton, head of creative strategy at Pinterest, told the panel audience, that’s exactly what happened to one Pinterest user who was looking to get in shape, but wasn’t sure where to start--until she stumbled upon a group that combined running with one of her personal passions. “She came across the Disney Princess Half Marathon,” Holton said. “She originally didn’t think running was going to be fun, but she was obsessed with Disney. Hearing her talk about it, she gets emotional because she met this community, and she pushed herself to try something.”

Holton says that such “analog” encouragement is hard-wired into Pinterest’s DNA. “Our mission is to help people discover and do things that they love,” he told the audience. “They find an idea on Pinterest, and then they go out and take action. Usually those actions that they take are offline.” That claim sounds counterintuitive for a firm that depends on its users spending large chunks of their time “pinning” inspiring images on its site. But Holton understands that by giving digital communities physical outlets, Pinterest is creating tighter-knit bonds that venture beyond the screen.

That ability to fuse the digital and physical worlds means that more people like the Disney princess runner are able to find and connect with people who share their unique interests. While we often can be made to feel isolated by social media, the ability to identify and connect with communities can be life changing. It’s the kind of story that can only happen in a world where the technological and physical realms have more touch points than ever before. “Human connection is built in to how our platform works,” Holton said.


Board games are another activity people are turning to to escape their screens and engage with friends and loved ones in the real world. The board game market is surging thanks to hits like Exploding Kittens, Settlers of Catan, and Cards Against Humanity; according to the NPD group, U.S. sales jumped 28% from 2016 to 2017. That such a leap has occurred amid the seeming ubiquity of tablet and mobile-phone screens suggests that people are increasingly looking to put down their devices and engage face to face.

“People are really craving personal connections, and games are a way that we can get together and actually see each other and experience things together outside of those virtual communities,” said Jen Mazer, co-creator of the board game Sparked. Mazer’s game is rooted in positive affirmation, something Mazer wagered would resonate with individuals who may be suffering from social media exhaustion. In the game, which is primarily marketed towards groups of women, players spin a wheel and draw themed cards grouped into categories such as passion and gratitude. The group then shares answers with each other, something that Mazer says strengthens bonds and lets people talk about “real things” with each other 

Not that Mazer disdains technology completely. On the contrary, she pointed out that Sparked players have been able to leverage tech to find potential game partners and bolster local communities of fellow players. Mazer also told the panel audience that the game couldn’t have happened without tech’s ability to shrink the distance between people with shared interests. “Technology is good. It allowed me to connect to this panel, it allowed me to create this game with my business partner who lives across the country,” Mazer said. But she knows that there’s no replacement for completing that last mile of connection. “People just want to see their friends and loved ones in person. They want to feel the love and positivity.” 

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