Friday, January 28, 2011

Your Facebook friends aren't, er, friendly enough? Consider renting friends -- especially if you've got "Jersey Boys" tickets to offer them


Some of the things it turns out you can rent these days are outlandish but understandable. And then there are things . . .

by Ken

Luckily, it's probably not necessary for me to restate my position on Facebook: that I don't get it any which way. Awhile back I actually tried to inform myself a little about it, and only came away more stupefied by declarations from seemingly reasonable fellow humans that they're "addicted." How? To what? It doesn't seem to me physically or mentally possible.

But then, there are people who watch Benny Hill. Or 24.

So no, I really don't mean to go there again just now. Actually, I raise the subject for the purpose of giving the Facebook faithful credit: for understanding that the basic building block of the enterprise, those so-called "friends," aren't friends in any previously known understanding of the word. Oh sure, I believe there was cynical intent in giving the name "friends" to Facebook remote-blips. Even users who understand that these people aren't really friends (let's face it, beyond your actual friends -- who, being your actual friends, don't have any need to be your Facebook friends, do they? -- most of those "friends" are barely even acquaintances), and by that I mean the broad category of minimally sane people, nevertheless can't suppress a certain residual frisson at the mention of friends. Subliminally, at least, some residue sticks.

Nevertheless, my point is that most Facebookers can be assumed to understand without prodding that their "friends" aren't actually "friends"; it's just the name given to those remote-blips. Maybe I'm touchy because friendship seems to me one of the truly worthy human institutions, but this latest challenge to the concept -- that is, the one I'm about to share with you . . . well, I don't know what to make of it. Perhaps somebody can explain it to me.

I have to preface this by saying that I hardly ever read Patricia Marx's "On and Off the Avenue" column in The New Yorker. It's not that I don't shop, but that the kind of shopping Ms. Marx writes about, whether on or off the avenue, seems never to have anything to do with my life. And I'm not sure that I would have looked at her outing this week if I hadn't pretty well exhausted the issue with days yet to go before the next one arrives. Usually the new issue piles in before I've gotten as much as halfway through the last one.

Then again, I might have looked at this column, which is called "The Borrowers," with the subhead "Why buy when you can rent?" (Only a précis is available free online. For once I can't imagine Net-surfing freeloaders feeling deprived. I guess in the course of thumbing through the magazine to find my way to other pieces I did intend to read I must have had my eyes light on some kind of peculiar items it appears you can rent, and I confess I did have a certain curiosity to see just what Ms. Marx had found for us to "borrow."

Eventually she gets around to the kind of stuff you might expect, or at least wouldn't be totally astonished to find, like designer purses (including "a $42,000 vintage Herm`s crocodile that rents for $4,800 a month," assuming you survive the "evaluations" and "credit histories" involved) and dresses (which turn out to come, for first-time renters, with a kit that promotes personal hygiene and rented-garment maintenance.

This stuff is of no earthly interest to me, but you can understand the impulse to have access to such fanciful treats at prices that may seem insane to the rest of us but that are "reasonable" compared with the cost of purchasing. And then there's stuff like textbooks, and textbooks and assorted stuff for kids that either they're apt to outgrow or they're apt to lose interest in. All fair enough. But Ms. Marx has the journalistic wit to give us the blockbusters up front.

For this one I don't have any word but weird:
You can hire a family. The Tokyo agency Haemashi-tai, meaning "We Want to Cheer You Up," is one of about ten outfits in Japan that supply clients with adult actors willing to impersonate any blood relation you require -- a loving dad to pick up your kids from school; reputable parents to vouch for you at a matchmaking party; noncomplaining, huggable grandchildren to spend the day with you; a trial husband who leaves towels on your bathroom floor to help you practice for your upcoming marriage (telephone 09048388162; no English spoken).

Unfortunately I've already used up weird, and I don't begin to have a word for what follows:
Another Japanese company, Office Agents, provides wedding guests, at about $250 per head -- a little extra if you want your rented chum to give a toast or sing and dance. Scott Rosenbaum, a thirty-one-year-old former Internet marketer who lives in New Jersey, read a newspaper article about this phenomenon and founded Rent-a-Friend, in October, 2009. The company has a database of more than three hundred thousand members around the world who can be employed, by paying subscribers, for platonic companionship (; membership, $24.95 per month).
I'm going to pause here, even though we're still in the same paragraph. I need to collect my wits, because this thing is about to enter the Twilight Zone. Okay, let's do it.
"The friends make up their own pricing, anywhere from ten to fifty dollars an hour," Rosenbaum told me over the phone, "but we find we have a lot of friends who are willing to waive their fee depending on the activity, like if the other person has tickets to 'Jersey Boys.'" Agreeable strangers, the Web site states, are commonly contracted to go to the movies or out to dinner, give personal advice, go hot-air ballooning, attend a dance class, do pottery, teach manners, hang out, or go see "Jersey Boys." Occasionally, Rosenbaum said, the client's request is more unorthodox. When a college student was caught drinking on campus, he hired surrogate parents from Rent-a-Friend to accompany him to the disciplinary meeting with a dean. A friend in need is a friend in deed, indeed.

Actually, this last, supposedly "more unorthodox" example at least makes sense, provided you can get away with it. However, the reference to specifically "platonic companionship" reminds me that rental of non-Platonic friends is, well, one of the world's oldest institutions.

I wonder what Plato would have made of this breakthrough in "platonic companionship."

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At 6:56 PM, Anonymous mediabob said...

So, how much to be a Facebook friend? I can't seem to get anyone.

At 7:55 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Bob, I believe the going rate for Facebook friends is a dime a dozen.

Now, to use Rent-a-Friend friends, the going rate, as Scott Rosenbaum explained, is $10-$50 an hour, er, depending . . . Plus the $24.95 monthly membership fee, of course. I just double-checked to make sure I typed that right -- yep, that's what it says, $24.95 per month, just to be eligible to rent those rent-a-friends.

Who knew you could put a price on friendship? I would think, as long as you're shelling out the $24.95/mo., it pays to rent in bulk.


At 8:31 PM, Anonymous mediabob said...

"... dime a dozen."

Well, that explains Congress. Next, rent-a-voter.


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