In a previous post, “One Is the Loneliest Number“, I wrote about the isolation epidemic that is growing around the world and becoming a major health issue.
Well in an article this week on the web site OZY, Ben Halder takes a look at how companies in China and other Asian countries are popping up that cater to single people.
Here’s some examples:
- Since 2015, China’s host of karaoke brands, led by Karaoke Television, have opened more than 20,000 minibooths catering to solo singers in supermarkets and shopping centers.
- Microsoft has developed a chatbot called Xiaoice, geared toward Mandarin speakers, that helps lonely users mimic human interaction. To seem more lifelike, it mines the internet for real conversations. Launched in 2014, Xiaoice now boasts 120 million active monthly users in China, who can interact with the bot on 15 different platforms.
- 2013, Japanese ramen noodle chain Ichiran brought its concept of the “Ramen Focus Booth” — eating at a table for one along a wall of similar tables separated by partitions — to Hong Kong (see photo above). When Ichiran opened in Taipei, Taiwan, in June 2017, there was a queue for 240 hours — 10 days — straight.
- In Japan, agencies allow people to “rent” family members for company during a meal to devices that allow users solo, private movie screenings.
- A range of artificial intelligence–based products, geared toward mimicking interaction with humans, has become available to consumers in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan over the past two years. Fuli, an AI-powered robot dog that adopts speech and human characteristics to keep its owner company, launched in May.
The article seems to suggest that these businesses are thriving, so apparently there is money to be made catering to lonely people.
The article also questions whether all of these business ventures are helping combat the loneliness problem, or whether they are making it worse by enabling people to remain isolated.
I would hope the firms noted above have a broader vision than just making money, that they would also be interested in helping to combat the loneliness epidemic. Perhaps they could have events at their places that offer a chance for those attending to meet other people – things like group dining at Ichiran or a bring your robot pet to the park day, or a single night out at the karaoke club.
Such outlets would give these individuals the opportunity to ease out of their loneliness, but the option would always still be there for them to have some alone time if that is what they are seeking.
I love seeing this spirit of entrepreneurship in action in all of these countries.
Someone notices a problem, and an entrepreneur comes along with a possible solution to the problem.
It’s a win for the doctors, the patient, and society.