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2016-02-12-1

This app rents out friends for you when you’re lonely

We’re becoming more bionic and unapologetically antisocial than ever – but everybody needs a mate sometimes, right?

“At this very moment, there are millions of people craving human companionship,” writes Clay Kohut, over email. “Everyone's felt lonely at some point. But why spend another night alone, wishing you were out doing something, when you can rent an instant friend on Ameego?”

And that, in a nutshell, is the Ameego premise. “Instant”, “local” friends for you to book and review – ordered like an Uber, and sent to your door. You negotiate a price with your new mate before you meet, and hey presto: you’ve got yourself an actual human being – someone to talk to, to confide in and to sooth all your soul-shattering loneliness. “Ameego enables users to hang out with new friends whenever they want, wherever they are,” explains Kohut, the app’s creator. “Users don't have to worry about how late it is or what their friends are up to. Need a wingman for the night? You've got one at the touch of a button.”

Given the rise of apps like Grindr and Tinder, it’s not the most shocking development. As we physically force our relationships to squeeze around our increasingly busy lives, it was inevitable that we’d start to do the same with our friends. Besides, in a world that’s now packed full of smartphones and social alerts, actual human contact is becoming less and less of a common occurrence – which is probably why this new range of free, “find a friend” apps seems to be thriving.

“It's always been hard to make new friends as an adult – the main difference is that today we move more, travel more, and stay single longer than ever before,” says Olivia Poole, founder of fledgling women’s friendship app hey!VINA. “We knew we were building something that we and other women needed and wanted, but we didn't realize the problem was so acute around the world!”

“People criticized Uber and Airbnb when they started... Ameego makes sense as a logical progression in the sharing economy” – Clay Kohut

But is it really that acute? Is this actually what it’s coming down to now? Is commodifying friendship a healthy new direction for humanity? Kohut thinks so, and insists that the early reaction to Ameego has been “incredible” – though the implications of its success feel more than a little worrying. “Forming personal connections as an adult is hard,” he shrugs off, practically. “There's a reason most romantic relationships form online these days; it's where we spend most of our time... When I meet someone for coffee or go out for drinks I'll often foot the bill. Maybe in the future, I'll pay for the other person's time as well.”

There is definitely a logic in his approach, and statistics seem to back him up. Millennials (the app’s main target audience) are the most stressed generation out there – with 60 per cent feeling buried under various life pressures. Our productivity levels are soaring, but as a result, our social lives are dying. Our work is now flooding so forcefully across our leisure time that we don’t even enjoy drinking anymore. A recent study found that one in five 18-24-year-olds’ are now teetotal, with only one in fifty identifying as “frequent” drinkers – making us more boring, bionic and unapologetically antisocial than ever before.

There’s a darker side to all this, too. A recent AXA PPP poll found that 18-24-year-olds are actually four times as likely to feel lonely than older age groups – a figure that’s been complemented by a recent rise in mental health issues. Although the reasons for all this aren’t clear, it’s probably not helped by a struggling economy, and a constant exposure to the isolating “perfect life” culture of social media. “For 18-24-year-olds particularly it’s a very difficult landscape to navigate through in a modern world,” says Catherine Sweet of youth charity Get Connected. “The sheer numbers of calls we get show this. We’re getting lonelier than ever.”

So, although Ameego may be a damning reflection of the state of our society, it may end up being a useful tool. After all, in a world of hyper-convenience, forming friendships still seems like one of the least accessible things to do. “When an Ameego user wants to hang out, they can pay a fair rate and instantly have a cool person to hang with,” says Kohut. “People criticised Uber and Airbnb when they started. New ideas often seem strange when they're introduced.”

Ameego makes sense as a logical progression in the sharing economy,” he concludes. “If I didn't build it, someone else would.” 

See more about the Ameego app, which is currently being trialled in New York and San Francisco, here

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