Why are we designing to influence and not accept?

Apparently, you can rent people to hangout with you. Yes 2016, this is happening.

RentAFriend.com is a website that allows you to rent local Friends from all over the world. You can rent a local Friend to hang out with, go to a movie or restaurant with, or someone to go with you to a party or event. Rent a friend to teach you a new skill or hobby, or to show you around an unfamiliar town.”

One can search friends in an area, view their profiles and message them to make plans to “hangout” with them. To message a friend, you must register online and pay a small membership fee. This is how this website makes money. The friends who you make plans with, can charge you $10 an hour for the time they spend with you. This is how this website introduces incentives. As a footnote, rentafriend adds that this service is for platonic purposes only. A service like this is waiting to be psychoanalysed. So I did.


As someone who thinks about User Experience, I am conditioned to think that every product has to fulfill a need or solve a problem. Problems are not easy to find. And sometimes, its just easier to create one. As rentafriend does. Lets see how.

Look at the following words - rent a friend. A lot happened to you in the last few seconds. You experienced curiosity, surprise, you forehead furrowed with confusion. Your heart rate increased, the hair on your arms rose a little. In short, you responded to these words with an attenuated version of how you would react to the actual event of renting a friend. Your mind automatically assumes a causal connection between “Rent” and “friend”. The state of your memory has changed in other ways too: you are now unusually ready to recognise and respond to concepts associated with renting: borrowing, paying, hiring and friend: company, laughter, emotions, loneliness. These complex responses occurred quickly, automatically and effortlessly. You did not will it and you could not stop it. It was unconscious behaviour.

Your mind is now going through what is called “association of ideas” or “priming”. In short, starting from a completely unexpected event, your unconscious mind made as much sense as possible of the situation- two simple words, oddly juxtaposed - by linking words in a causal story; it evaluated the possible threat (mild moderate) and created a context for future developments by preparing you for events that had just become more likely. You ended up informed about a past and as prepared for future as you could be.

This is where priming gets dangerous - it influences an action by the idea. Constant exposure to the idea of “renting a friend” will influence you to think of a friend as a “borrowed entity”; like a car you hired for your trip to the cottage that weekend. The result, complete breakdown of human interaction.


The implications of wide scale use of this product are not hard to imagine. If technology lets us pay for friends, why bother making the effort of being trustworthy or accepting enough to earn someone’s friendship? Lets go one step further and stop interacting with humans at all. Just buy them through money, on demand, no hassles. Soon, with lack of use, we might even forget what being respectful, trustworthy may feel like. It’s already happening with online dating, where one might find themselves scared of confrontation, embrace their non-authentic selves and trivialise expressions of affection (Netflix and chill).


Long story long, humans dont need this. They don’t need technology that will allow them to stop interacting with humans under the excuse that it will save them time. Why? Because humans are social beings. Our bodies release oxytoxin (happy hormone) from social interactions, when we fall in love, when we hug, when we surround ourselves with people we can share ourselves with. Clicking on buttons or tapping on screen gives us immediate gratification, never long lasting happiness.


Thinking, Fast and Slow : Daniel Kahneman

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