Yet More Outsourcing You

Catherine Snowdon reports for the BBC about businesses that let you “outsource yourself”, as Patricia Marx so aptly put it [1]. Evidently, this concept has not gone away since Marx tried it out, and has moved into more and more transgressive areas.

Snowdon is particularly interested in The Breakup Shop (covered earlier here), “Bad Relationship? Let us help you end it.” Sigh. Apparently still in business, the product list includes a “Breakup phone call”, “Breakup Text”, and “Breakup Letter”. (Who in the world sends anyone letters anymore??)

As Snowdon reports, this is a somewhat contested area of social norms, and rapidly changing. We can watch this evolution from academic research over the last decade.

In the age of dating apps, of course people will use digital mediation for break ups.

And Catherine, there is far more weirdness out there than are dreamt of in your philosophy, including intimate spyware, stalking tech, real time coaching, and, of course, dildonics haptics.


I’m not exactly sure what the point of this piece is. It isn’t new (I’ve blogged about this for years), and she doesn’t break any new ground (see earlier posts for much, much more transgressive products).

Perhaps the point is to show how clever people create businesses out of the littlest things. But that’s kind of silly, because these are very small, marginal enterprises. These are microtasks, with microrevenue. Even if you add everything up, it doesn’t amount to much. And it’s not all added up, it’s distributed in tiny drips across thousands of people. It’s hopeless as a real business model, its little more than a game. It would be nice for the Business reporter to acknowledge that.

I might also point out just how risky this business model is. Associating yourself with unpleasant situations is a sure way to get people to hate you and the mobile phone you rode in on. We probably all know someone who has dropped off Facebook entirely after a seriously bad experience there. Breakup may or may not be a viable business, but it certainly isn’t one that people will really like very much.


There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear

Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth” (1966)

Of course, the real interest is anthropological and psychological, and for good reason! [3-7]

It is so cool to watch things change right under our noses!

On a scale from 0-10, how tacky/creepy is breaking up by phone? By text? By email?

And how tacky is hiring someone to do it for you?

The norms surrounding this judgment have obviously shifted rapidly over the last decades. (I am so-o-o-o glad I’m not in the dating pool any more!)

Does this technology change things? Other than making a tiny amount of money for some companies, I doubt it. Men are still clueless, and women inscrutable.

Being dumped still sucks, and I’m pretty sure doing it “efficiently” doesn’t make it much better or worse, or even more common.

In the end, whatever the original design goals, people will use technology for the things that matter most. Sharing music and snapshots. Arguing politics and religion. Spoiling and smothering their children.

And, above all, meeting, dating, and breaking up.

What else would we expect to happen?


  1. Catherine Snowdon,  Would you pay a stranger to dump your partner for you? BBC News – Business.May 5 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/business-39351286
  2. Patricia Marx, “Outsource Yourself”, The New Yorker, January 14, 2012, pp. 32-35.  http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/01/14/130114fa_fact_marx
  3. Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance, New York, Penguin Press, 2015.
  4. Ilana Gershon, The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2010.
  5. Richard Ling, New Tech, New Ties: How Mobile Communication is Reshaping Social Cohesion, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2008.
  6. Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Penguin Press, New York, 2015.
  7. Moira Weigel, Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.

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