Last week I wrote about a service called Invisible Girlfriend and/or Invisible Boyfriend, which lets people create make-believe partners and have conversations with them via text message. ("World's Saddest Service Offers Make-Believe Boyfriend Or Girlfriend.") Since then I've heard from a guy who gets paid (5 cents per text message) to do this pen-pal work. He agreed to share some of the conversations he's had. The screen shots are below, and once you see them, you'll probably understand why these people don't have partners in real life.
"Most of them are very dull," our tipster says. "I suspect your article prompted a lot of sign-ups, because most of the conversations are either just getting started, or the user is a troll who sends texts like `tits or gtfo,' or my personal favorite, `I'm at Bloomingdale's and I forgot my credit card! Can I have your number? Don't forget the three digits on the back.' The only real funny one was a long conversation between a user who wanted nude pics and the succession of crowdsourced writers, one after the other, trying to stall or change the subject."
Writers work for a service called Crowdsource.com. They have to pass a test to get the gig. Once they're approved, they can log in and start writing text messages. The assignments are completely random. You play one role after another, male and female.
"The instructions ask you to be `fun and outgoing' and to avoid writing texts that are negative or depressing. Each conversation comes with short bios for both the user and the imaginary S.O., including how they met cute (`We were both waiting in line at Starbucks when she complimented my shoes'), which I assume were provided by the user. You're not supposed to send a text that radically changes the info given in the bio, so you wouldn't say you're quitting your job or moving out of the country. The clients apparently want the persona texting them to be consistent."
Sometimes things take a serious turn. "I stumbled into a conversation where the user was talking about being depressed that other gay men in Los Angeles are not into him because he is Asian, and everyone wants a white man. The crowdsource writers had given up the pretense of being someone who had hit it off with him and instead responded like a friend, or perhaps a friendly Internet commenter. `Sorry to hear that, you'll be OK,' that sort of thing."
But mostly it's just awful. You're spending your time either staring into the maw of despair and loneliness, or having idiotic conversations like this one between Nick (the customer) and Holly, the made-up girlfriend:
Here's one between Bella (the customer) and Kenton, the make-believe boyfriend:
Then there's Hex, a customer, who seems a little paranoid about the whole thing and is maybe thinking he should not have done this in the first place. (He's right!)
For phase three of this project, I'm going to call Tim Berners-Lee and ask him if he's still glad he made this whole World Wide Web thing. My guess is that he, like Hex, is having second thoughts.