NeoBytes :) is an occasional feature that takes a step back from the big headlines, to take a look at what else is happening in the vast, scary expanse of the tech world - often with a cynical eye, always with a dose of humour.
Looking for love in this big, scary world can be a long and lonely endeavour, and it doesn't help when even internet dating sites start screwing around with your chances of finding 'the one'. But if you've had enough of the dating game, and just yearn for some company, then why not pay for it?
No... not like that (honestly, you've all got such dirty minds...). As Chinese news site Dayoo reports (via Want China Times), the services that are now being offered to lonely hearts are far more innocent, but still come with a price tag attached.
Sellers on Taobao - China's largest e-commerce website - have begun offering virtual girlfriend and boyfriend services via their mobile phones. The services are provided by real people rather than automated avatars or chat programs, and cost around 20-30 CNY (roughly $3-$5 USD) per day.
For that amount, your paid partner will speak to you on the phone, and send you text messages and IMs, listening to you moan about how bad your day was, telling you how wonderful you are, and wishing you sweet dreams before you go to sleep. Customers can even select the type of ideal man or woman that they choose to get involved with, so to speak - including "girl next door", "mature woman", "men in uniform" or "comforting men."
For those offering the services, it's hard work - but worth it. One lady, who goes by the nickname Xiaomi (no relation, we presume), said that she decided to become a virtual girlfriend in order to increase the number of people who visited her store on Taobao. It's worked too - from fewer than ten transactions per day, demand has exploded to over 500 a day.
But Xiaomi has to work long and awkward hours to keep it all going. Calls and messages from customers can come at any time, and she has to get up early to make wake-up calls to customers who like to speak to her first thing in the morning. But her business is growing, and she has hired seven more women to help satisfy demand for the service.
The whole thing may sound a little desperate to some, but the customers seem to like it. "You just spend 20 to 30 yuan a day to make a single man's dream come true!" said one customer. "100 likes!"
The service may not be for everyone - but hey, it probably beats calling the speaking clock when you're lonely.