Grand Kids on Demand

This App Is Like an Uber for Grandkids” — Vice News, 2019, 5:46

Are you retired and looking to chill with a young person? Now there’s an app for that. Papa is a gig economy service that pairs college students with older clients. The goal is to counter increasing loneliness among the elderly as a lack of socializing can be detrimental to one’s health. In more sociological terms, this app pays college students for their emotional labor and time spent with senior citizens. We pay to ride in stranger’s cars (Uber/Lyft), we pay strangers to deliver groceries to our homes (Shipt), and now we can pay strangers for social interaction. It seems this service brightens up the lives of those profiled in this video, and it will be interesting to observe if this becomes more popular in the future.

Would you use or work for this service? Does payment for friendship change the dynamic of social interaction or the received benefits on one’s well being? What might this service say about how a society cares for its elderly?

I’ll admit that I have some reservations about the pal-for-pay model here, but I still think it’s wonderful and can see myself working for and one day using this service. I am from a small family and I am also proudly single with no desire for commitment or children. As such, I wonder how this service might be differentially viewed by those with large families and those like myself. One could view this service as outsourcing family or community support, but I think something can be said for making such supports available on demand for individuals who feel alienated.

From the video’s description: Nilsa Torres, 70, and her frail 91-year-old mother Ignacia Rodriguez rarely left the modest two-bedroom apartment they share in this Gulf Coast retirement community. Torres is Rodriquez’s daughter, but also her primary caregiver — a relationship complicated by the conflation of love and need. They often didn't do much of anything, and it was making Torres feel trapped and lonely. “I would love to do more for my mother, like even take her out,” Torres told VICE News. “A lot of times I know she wants to do it, but she declines because she thinks that it's too much work for me.” Then came the app — and the young woman — who changed their life. A Miami-based startup called Papa provides what they call a “grandkid on demand” service, where they send a vetted college-age person or young adult for companionship and transportation to seniors in need. Clients can use the app, but Papa’s average customer is 75 years old, so most people just call in for the service. As soon as Torres heard about the program, she signed up, and she and her mother have been getting weekly visits from Christine Perez. “I got off my Celexa [anti-depressant],” Torres said. “My mother started eating again, and she's gained weight. She's happy and, I mean, what can I tell you — she's a different person.” The cost of loneliness is real, nearly $7 billion a year to Medicare alone, according to a 2018 AARP study. Which is why Papa has caught the attention of numerous states’ Medicare Advantage programs. As of press time, Papa was offered in major cities in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, with plans to expand soon to Arizona, California, Texas, New York, and New Jersey. We visited Torres and Rodriguez when Christine made one of her visits.