A 35-year-old woman who was struggling with isolation and began selling goodnight text messages for 11p to other lonely people has spoken of how her unique service has helped her feel connected to other people.
Wong Biying from Guandong province in southern China first thought of the concept while working at an e-commerce company in 2012 and struggling with feelings of loneliness that caused insomnia, reports the South China Morning Post.
After researching her problems online, she discovered that many other people felt the same way as her.
“I thought I could connect these strangers to confide in each other and keep each other company,” Biying said.
Instead, she opened a shop on Taobao - a retail platform similar to eBay - called, “A person selling a good night in a deserted land.”
A few days later, she got her first customer - and demand has continued in earnest ever since.
“It turned out that some people do need the service,” she said.
Over a 10-year period, she has sent 30,000 messages and once sent more than 300 messages in a single night.
“A simple good night is a lighthouse for every lonely person at night”, is how one person described the service.
While most messages are short and sweet, they can sometimes stretch to 200 characters, with Biying customising them for patrons: “If a customer has a special request, I will write the message based on their story”, she said.
Biying adds that her customers are as diverse as their requests, with cancer patients, children from single-parent families and “LGBTQ people who are misunderstood by their families” forming just a handful of her clients.
“When people place an order, many of them will write down their own stories, and, through every story, I get a window into their souls beyond the screen,” she said.
She added that she had also received unusual requests, such as curses for enemies, people trying to track down loved ones and even debt collection reminders.
As well as providing a much-needed service, Biying’s efforts have also been lucrative and amassed more than £3,500.
While she has been subject to some criticism by people accusing her of profiteering from people’s unhappiness, she argues that her service “consumes a lot of time and energy” and that her profits do not amount to enough to live off.
While her loneliness has eased during the course of her social enterprise, she has chosen to maintain her message service to help others in need.
“The trust of strangers keeps me going, as well as bringing warmth to others while healing my lonely self,” she said.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) collected data on loneliness during the pandemic, estimating that 7.2 per cent of UK adults felt lonely “often” or “always” between October 2020 and February 2021.
This represented an increase of 1.1 million people since data was collected in May 2020.
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, 45 per cent of adults feel occasionally, sometimes, or often lonely in England. This equates to twenty five million people.