Is Rent a Friend An Answer to Our Lonely Modern World?

An internet entrepreneur is making friends available for hire at an hourly rate – meet ‘Rent a Friend’. A service that I haven’t quite made my mind up about yet is still to launch in Britain. Though, interestingly, as I started to contemplate the idea of Rent a Friend I wondered if it could actually be a solution to a creeping problem; as a major report in May 2010 by the Mental Health Foundation, a UK charity, suggests that more than one in ten people in Britain feel lonely ‘often’.

Scott Rosenbaum, 30 who is behind Rent a Friend has a database of 218,000 men and women on his site who can be hired to go to a movie or restaurant with, or show you around a new city. The US-based site is already a small success and has around 2,000 members, each paying up to £16 a month ($25) to access the site and when members see a friend they like the look of, they can rent them for as little as £6.50 ($10) an hour. Rosenbaum has said that he wants to "go a step back" from dating sites and offer a service that was, in the words of his website "strictly platonic". He told The Times newspaper: "No one was offering friendship." Members who offer sex or the promise of a more meaningful relationship are expelled from the site.

The concept of Rent a Friend has its origins in Japan where there are now about 10 such agencies and it is also popular in Canada. The service is not just about getting people to meet up for a drink or a meal; as it lists other activities that members might like to hire friends for from "snowboarding", "family functions" and just plain old "hanging out". Though the whole concept may sound slightly strange, it's clearly addressing a need and reflects how lonely modern life can be. We all work longer hours than we ever have, spend a lot of time online and we just don't talk to strangers like we used to; anybody new to a city will know all about that.

The internet has changed the way we communicate and the mental Health Foundation found that in the UK one in three people would like to move to live closer to their family in order to see them more often (35 per cent). Almost one in five people (18 per cent) say they spend too much time communicating with family and friends through the internet when they should see them in person.

So, may be there is truly a place for Rent a Friend here in Britain, which allows an online cash transaction to meet a ‘friend’. Yet it certainly does turn the definition of friend on its head, as we usually describe a friend as someone who knows us as a person and regards us for who and what we are.

Photo credit: dscribe