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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The Battalion May 4, 2024

Opinion: The loneliness economy

Yes, people are paying for friendships
Photo by Chris Swann
Is there a market capitalizing on loneliness? Opinion columnist Bj Barnes says online pay-to-chat services are a symptom of youth loneliness and an inability to socialize with peers. (Photo by Chris Swann/The Battalion)

You’re lying on your bed, staring at your phone. The blue ambient light is the only thing illuminating your face in your otherwise pitch-black room. It’s a Friday night, and your small number of friends are either busy studying or have prior engagements.  

You lament the thought of squandering the night away and are in dire need of social interaction. Begrudgingly, you decide to venture onto one of the plethora of pay-to-chat platforms in hopes of sparking a flirtatious conversation. Namely Phrendly, Fivver, RentAFriend, OnlyFans — I can keep going, but I’ll spare you. 

Now, for my older readers, this concept may seem unimaginable. To you, the thought of paying for the opportunity to speak to someone is absurd, and I don’t want to lead you astray, because most people my age would agree. This doesn’t mean I don’t see where these cripplingly lonely people are coming from, though. 

That’s right. In a generation where digital isolation and prolonged exposure to other people’s “highlight reels” have become commonplace, it is not uncommon for people to spend money on apps in an attempt to form a social connection with someone.  

Technology has integrated its way into almost every facet of our everyday lives and while it may be easier to get in contact with someone, it’s actually harder now to form meaningful connections with them. I’ve also noticed that while the average person may have dozens of friends they chat with daily, their inner-circle of friends they make time for is actually relatively small

This eventually leads to hours of putting time and energy into maintaining friendships neither person is vehemently invested in keeping. Now, you may be wondering what this looks like exactly. 

Have you ever had a “conversation” with someone where all you two did was send snaps of your face back and forth with no caption? Yup. How about repeatedly responding with “that’s crazy” to someone’s texts? Perhaps you and a distant friend have even been guilty of allowing entire days to pass in between sending each other funny TikToks without even asking how the other person was doing. 

This is right around when someone will enter the “danger zone.” After falling into the daily trap social media propagates — pouring copious amounts of time into consuming as much content as possible and then sharing that content with as many people as possible — you’re wasting precious time that could otherwise be spent building lasting relationships with a fraction of them. 

What good is having 50 people you Snapchat regularly if you’re not saying anything substantive? Are you ever actually making plans to hang out in person with these people? 

In some situations, men are especially at risk for being lonelier than their female counterparts, with less than a quarter of them saying they’ve received any form of emotional support from someone within the past week. Compare that to women’s 41%. Additionally, most men have been conditioned into rejecting emotional help from their peers for fear of appearing weak. 

This is when the appeal of these online pay-to-chat platforms begin to seem a bit more enticing. 

After unconsciously forming the habit of using your free time to communicate with people you’ll rarely see off-screen and falsely believing that asking your handful of friends for more support will only push them away, parting with a few dollars in exchange for attention almost becomes the easier option. 

Take it from the woman who reportedly made over $10,000 a month talking to men, most of whom, according to her, were only seeking to speak with someone who cared about them. We’ve reached the digital version of prostitution. However, the thing individuals are paying for isn’t sex. No, it’s far more concerning: attention.    

Reciprocal affection and authentic friendships are becoming a luxury. Socialization has and always will be a necessity while cash has been reduced to a commodity. The very idea of how to find and maintain relationships dependent upon one’s well-being are rapidly changing.  

The solution is something we’ve possessed since the dawn of time: our innate ability to gather in groups and speak to one another. You don’t need to pay someone to put on their best pantomime impression and imitate what a friend should be. You need to go find some. 

Instead of doom-scrolling in your room, go touch grass. Go speak to a girl. Ask your friends if they want to do something that requires their full attention. This negates the reflexive tendency to pull out your phone when things get quiet or mildly dull. Might I suggest Spikeball

Benjamin Barnes is a telecommunication media studies senior and opinion columnist for The Battalion.

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About the Contributor
Bj Barnes
Bj Barnes, Opinion Columnist
Benjamin Barnes is a Telecommunication Media Studies senior from Rochester, Indiana. Barnes' has been involved with The Battalion since his junior year and plans to start his own media group following graduation. If he's not writing, he's most likely watching a Texans game or at the gym.
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  • D

    David AuClairFeb 29, 2024 at 3:10 pm

    I love the solution at the end of this article BJ. One of my goals in 2022 was that every time I left my front door, I had to meet someone new. Even if it was a friendly conversation with the person behind me at HEB in the check-out line. I know I’m bad at names, so after every conversation, I’d whip out my phone, go to a note I cleverly named “Austin” (for the city), and jot down the person’s name and something we talked about. This led me to meeting my closest friend in ATX, the production manager for my podcast, more lifting bud’s then I can count, several of my podcast’s guests, and a severe lack of loneliness. It was an aggressive, scary goal, but I couldn’t be more proud and grateful that I forced myself to do this. Keep writing brother!

  • T

    Tami GriffeyFeb 25, 2024 at 1:01 pm

    Your articles are so insightful. You have a wisdom beyond your years. It’s refreshing to know that young people are in tune with the problems of our current society. As an adult, it gives me hope knowing that the Texas A&M students are not just following blindly the current social status of our nation. It’s great to know that your age group is questioning things and seeking change for the better. Keep up the good work and go Aggies.