My videochat is constantly on. Any one of several friends might be in the call window, blank-faced, headphones on, writing their own work, reading emails, checking Facebook, as I do the same. We rarely look up. We never speak out loud. The great thing about these calls is that they’re not activities; they’re just bridges that turn my desk into one half of a shared table. In other words, they’re very much like hanging out in real life. Hence the name of Google’s video-calling service: hangouts.
But what if there was no one on the other side of the window? Free video calling, like so many other social platforms, also offers unprecedented possibilities for disappointment. There’s nothing worse having the ability to hang out anywhere in the world, and having no one to hang out with. Enter China’s online hostesses.
“After finishing work, except for watching TV, films or just lying in bed, playing computer games and so on, there isn’t a real person talking to you,” bobo.com user Zhu Peihua told Reuters. ”But with this… this is a real person. You can interact with them. I have some one who will talk to me.”
Bobo.com is one of 50 video chat hangout services catering to China’s estimated 40 to 50 million lonely single men. Although mostly operated by young female entertainers, these services are not about sex; pornography is still technically illegal in China.
Instead, the 10,000 hostesses available on bobo.com do nothing more than joke around, chat, perhaps even break into song or dance when the mood strikes—or when their chat partners request. In this economy of care, a hostess can earn as much as 10,000 yuan ($1,600) per month, by coaxing signs of affection in the form of virtual gifts from their customers, redeemable for cash.