15 votes

I paid $47 an hour for someone to be my friend. Is this a cure for the loneliness epidemic?

15 comments

  1. [2]
    Sahasrahla
    Link
    There's a lot to unpack with this article. The service itself makes me think of the "ask a sex worker" threads on Reddit that are full of anecdotes about how many of the clients are lonely men who...

    There's a lot to unpack with this article. The service itself makes me think of the "ask a sex worker" threads on Reddit that are full of anecdotes about how many of the clients are lonely men who seem most interested in companionship, intimacy, and a sort of therapist-like relationship, to the point where some people quit the work because they couldn't handle the emotional weight of being de facto therapists. (Which is not to say that's the only way people experience sex work; it's a fraught and difficult topic.)

    A service like this provides intimacy and a feeling of normalcy, and perhaps a cover for people who are embarrassed about their lack of friends (i.e. the people in the article hiring-a-friend to attend a social function with them) but it doesn't provide friends. Like the article points out, there are some odd power dynamics that don't exist with a non-monetary relationship and the very nature of what the service is prevents it from being what it advertises itself to ostensibly be. You can't pay someone to be your friend because at the heart of friendship is how you feel about each other and you can't pay someone to feel a certain way, only to act a certain way. (Well, leaving aside issues of manipulation and coercion, and how pretending to feel a certain way can influence how you really feel.)

    The next point, which is mostly unaddressed by this article, is why so many people need a service like this in the first place, i.e. why are so many people so lonely? The question is brought up and framed in terms of "is technology making us lonely?" but I think it's more about how we've set up our society, specifically in terms of how we spend our time and how we've organized our physical spaces.

    Personally, the easiest time in my life socially was university. Not only was it easy to meet people just by going to class but as far as socializing with friends went there was a lot to facilitate that: even if we were busy our time was flexible, we all had a reason to frequently be in a central location within walking distance of each other, and there were free places to spend time in where we could be together or happen to run into each other. Now that I've graduated, though, much of that has disappeared: our schedules are fixed and unaccommodating, we live and work spread out across a sprawling city, and there's no place to go where we'll "run into" each other and few places we can go to for free. Social engagements, especially in groups, take a lot more effort and planning and it feels like there are more responsibilities and obligations competing for our time. This isn't something caused by smart phones and social media; those are just stopgap solutions for an alienating way of life.

    As an aside, it would be interesting to see scifi tackle these issues of technology and intimacy more. Often this topic is covered from a romantic angle ("What if you fall in love with a computer‽") but it's much less frequently covered from a friendship angle. One example I can think of is the Netflix series Maniac. Though a small part of it overall, the alternate world-of-2018 included "ad buddies" and "friend proxies", with the latter especially sounding a lot like the real-life service talked about in the OP article.

    A bit more about that here. A relevant excerpt:

    You probably have your own Friend Proxy, whether you realize it or not. The NFL announcers who crack jokes all the time to duplicate for lone viewers the experience of a group hang? They’re providing a service beyond just translating the action of the game. In the world of Maniac, Friend Proxy would be there for that lone viewer to turn to after clicking off the game and suddenly finding himself alone. You probably also have something like your own Ad Buddy, if you follow enough people on Instagram beholden to #sponcon.

    20 votes
    1. Octofox
      Link Parent
      Thanks for writing out the rant I had in my head but never posted. This really bothers me. In highschool I had a bunch of friends but then when I left and got a job I mostly stopped meeting up...

      Thanks for writing out the rant I had in my head but never posted. This really bothers me. In highschool I had a bunch of friends but then when I left and got a job I mostly stopped meeting up with them because they all live on other sides of the city. The only place there seems to be to meet up is the pub and it feels like I am being charged $30 per social interaction.

      Modern technology is not to blame for this I would say the problem can almost entirely be attributed to cars. They have spread out our cities so far and wide that you can't just casually show up at a friends house because it will take you 30-60 minutes to drive there and about $10 in petrol, that kind of friction means you will only do it if you have properly planned it out and the effort of going through all of that makes it so much easier to just sit at home and watch tv shows which provide a low level of entertainment but at least don't require you to spend your whole life sitting in traffic.

      The rest of the problem can be attributed to the lack of public social places. Private buildings make for poor social areas because they are designed to get you in, spend all of your money and push you out. Pubs are too loud to be in. Private homes would be fine for this if they were actually convenient to get to. There should be public indoor spaces in city centres because it means people can finish work and walk to one easily.

      9 votes
  2. [5]
    SuperGracchiBros
    Link
    If I can be a cynical leftist for a moment, but this seems like capitalism coming in to wallpaper over a problem that it created. Loneliness is a rising problem, particularly because work/life...

    If I can be a cynical leftist for a moment, but this seems like capitalism coming in to wallpaper over a problem that it created. Loneliness is a rising problem, particularly because work/life balance is vanishing. We're encouraged to become isolated and absorbed into our tech, because it makes us better consumers. This reminds me of the robotic bees some tech company wants to build. Capitalist industry killed all the bees? Just have them build robot bees, problem solved.

    20 votes
    1. [4]
      JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      It's technological, not political. Social media platforms do not depend on capitalism to exist (only their enormous accumulations of wealth depend on it). The fundamental problem is the enticing...

      It's technological, not political. Social media platforms do not depend on capitalism to exist (only their enormous accumulations of wealth depend on it). The fundamental problem is the enticing ease of use and instantaneous gratification of social media. You can be capitalist and never use social media and have plenty of friends AFK.
      Free market and capitalism are not the same thing.

      9 votes
      1. [3]
        culturedleftfoot
        Link Parent
        Social media has accelerated the process and amplified the effects but this problem has been a long time coming. It's hard to argue that sense of community and social contract haven't been on a...

        Social media has accelerated the process and amplified the effects but this problem has been a long time coming. It's hard to argue that sense of community and social contract haven't been on a steady decline since the '70s at least.

        4 votes
        1. [2]
          JakeTheDog
          Link Parent
          No disagreement there, my point is that it's accelerated by tech, not politics itself. Also not arguing against that. But what makes you cite the 70's?

          Social media has accelerated the process and amplified the effects but this problem has been a long time coming.

          No disagreement there, my point is that it's accelerated by tech, not politics itself.

          It's hard to argue that sense of community and social contract haven't been on a steady decline since the '70s at least.

          Also not arguing against that. But what makes you cite the 70's?

          2 votes
          1. culturedleftfoot
            Link Parent
            Well, not to play semantics, but saying social media is the fundamental problem is different from my stance that it's merely an accelerant. I mentioned the 70s off the top of my head because, in...

            Well, not to play semantics, but saying social media is the fundamental problem is different from my stance that it's merely an accelerant. I mentioned the 70s off the top of my head because, in terms of the US, I think the biggest challenges to popular assumption of social harmony could more or less be considered fallout from/latent resistance to the civil rights movement and the changes that were legislated in the previous decade, and IMO the only other factors of comparative cumulative impact on the national psyche in the past century are 9/11 and the post-WW2 engineering of consumerism.

            Having said that, my view is basically anecdotal and I realize things can probably look fairly different depending on where you choose to look.

  3. [2]
    welly
    Link
    It's not a friend if you're paying for it. It's at best an acquaintance. I fail to see what this rent a friend provides that something like Meetup doesn't. If you want to find like-minded people,...

    It's not a friend if you're paying for it. It's at best an acquaintance.

    I fail to see what this rent a friend provides that something like Meetup doesn't. If you want to find like-minded people, join meetup and you'll find them there. And not pay 50 bucks an hour for the privilege.

    11 votes
    1. ainar-g
      Link Parent
      Or you could hire a foreign language teacher, preferably a native, and have individual classes where you just talk about stuff with an occasional grammar or vocabulary bork-up. What? No, no, this...

      Or you could hire a foreign language teacher, preferably a native, and have individual classes where you just talk about stuff with an occasional grammar or vocabulary bork-up.

      What? No, no, this is in no way based on a personal experience! Not at all!

      I think this actually works with any kind of individual or group classes. And you actually learn skills besides socialising.

      7 votes
  4. Rocket_Man
    Link
    Is the loneliness epidemic real? If it is I think it's different than people not being able to make friends. I a lot of people have implicitly decided they don't want to maintain relationships and...

    Is the loneliness epidemic real? If it is I think it's different than people not being able to make friends. I a lot of people have implicitly decided they don't want to maintain relationships and socialize that often. But they're still humans predisposed to socialize and that's where loneliness comes in.

    Withdrawal from a personal desire/need you're intentionally ignoring. If that's the case rent-a-friend is perfect, it requires no social maintenance and is on-demand. But I imagine it'll only last as long as it takes to get AI that are sufficiently advanced to satisfy our social needs.

    On the other hand maybe it exists and for a different reason.

    5 votes
  5. [5]
    MimicSquid
    Link
    No.

    No.

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      dubteedub
      Link Parent
      Not sure if you are making a joke or just being snarky, but if you read the article, he makes a pretty good case that while not perfect, it could be used to help with loneliness and depression.

      Not sure if you are making a joke or just being snarky, but if you read the article, he makes a pretty good case that while not perfect, it could be used to help with loneliness and depression.

      A debate is still raging over whether technology has really made us lonelier. There have been clear developing trends over the past decade that correlate smartphone and social media use in teenagers with loneliness and depression. This may be due in part to the fact that excessive time spent using a smartphone means less time spent interacting with people or with a community — activities that tend to drive decreased feelings of loneliness. Some psychologists argue that while social media can make people feel lonely, it may be because they’re simply transplanting their real-life habits of engaging in unhealthy comparison and favoring passive, brief interactions onto a new medium.

      While the toxicity of social media can be hard to ignore, I’m not sure I believe that technology is making people lonelier or that RentAFriend is a rare exception that relieves more loneliness than it creates. But I would be lying if I said I left my time with Lyla feeling robbed of a positive experience. Renting a friend felt worse than regular friendship — it lacked its ease, the mutual respect and comfort that familiarity allows, and the certainty that it will last longer than an afternoon — but it also felt better than being lonely.

      6 votes
      1. MimicSquid
        Link Parent
        Having companionship certainly does help with loneliness and depression, but paying someone $47/hr for it is a very expensive "cure", and is not applicable to the whole "epidemic", given the lack...

        Having companionship certainly does help with loneliness and depression, but paying someone $47/hr for it is a very expensive "cure", and is not applicable to the whole "epidemic", given the lack of financial viability for much of the population.

        2 votes
    2. [2]
      Sahasrahla
      Link Parent
      Betteridge's Law is applied way too broadly. It's a good rule of thumb that headlines like "Did science just cure cancer?" probably have the answer "no" because if the answer was "yes" then the...

      Betteridge's Law is applied way too broadly. It's a good rule of thumb that headlines like "Did science just cure cancer?" probably have the answer "no" because if the answer was "yes" then the headline would be "Science just cured cancer!" instead of something more tentative. However, questions in headlines are used rhetorically all the time and especially in the case of opinion pieces might just be setting up the topic for a "yes" or "maybe" argument.

      One example I saw recently where the article's answer to the headline was yes: Did Hong Kong Police Abuse Protesters? What Videos Show

      3 votes
      1. MimicSquid
        Link Parent
        Sure, but this is a great example where it's right. Even your example is one where the headline would be improved by removing the question.

        Sure, but this is a great example where it's right. Even your example is one where the headline would be improved by removing the question.