New technologies, especially social networks and dating apps, have contributed to an epidemic of loneliness that has swept across America in recent decades.
In the 1970s and ’80s, some 11 to 20 percent of Americans reported feeling lonely, said John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience and co-author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, in an interview with Fortune. That proportion has increased to a staggering 40 to 45 percent this decade.
The increased ability to find jobs in different locations, endless entertainment and our mobile phones have all made it easier for us to drift from the social connections that have bound humans in the past. Now, much of social interaction is as simple as a like, a comment or a swipe.
So can technology cure the loneliness epidemic that it spurred? Accidental entrepreneur Chuck McCarthy may have stumbled upon the answer.
The Guardian reports that the heavily bearded Los Angeles-based struggling actor is now the city’s first people walker. Yes, for $ 7 a mile, McCarthy accompanies clients on the sidewalks and in the park near his home, making, for the most part, small talk. In essence, his margin is zero. His only marketing efforts are lamp post signs and a homemade T-shirt branding him “The People Walker.”
People have taken notice, as The Guardian reports that McCarthy has fielded hundreds of emails. He’s recruited five other people walkers to cover various parts of the city, although he won’t take a cut of their earnings until he settles on a business model.
Then there’s the lingering franchise opportunity, as people in Britain, New York and Israel have already expressed interest in the idea.
McCarthy stepped into a problem, and his solution seems to be in demand. His next move may be following Uber‘s path and launching an app. And a quote from McCarthy perfectly illustrates the irony in that.
“We’re on phones and computers constantly communicating but we’re not connecting as much,” he told the publication. “We need that human interaction.”