It’s scary how much of our digital lives get shared. I was contemplating a small kitchen cabinet refacing project last month and submitted a quote to one vendor. Since then, my inbox and voicemails have been flooded with random contractors and remodeling agencies pestering me. Unfortunately, I inadvertently took one of those sales calls, and the next thing I knew, a handsome stranger showed up while I was busy working at my nonprofit to change the world.
Imagine the most beautiful man you’ve ever laid eyes on–he’s tall, well-built, with strong jaws, dreamy eyes, topped off with an exotic accent that’s French? or Russian?—somewhere fancy, but not so pronounced that you can’t understand him. I almost didn’t know where to look.
He starts asking about not just my kitchen cabinet but my dreams and showing me pictures and reels of projects that his crew just successfully wrapped up near me. It soon occurred to me that all his clients are women.
Tantalizing, but curaJOY is right in the midst of final development for our long-awaited product, so I get back to work and ask him to take measurements of my cabinets and talk some real numbers. Mr. Hot Guy is taken aback that any woman wouldn’t want to bask more in his presence and starts being interested in me–where I’m from–(maybe I’m also exotic like him 😉
After a while, I decided to get him out of my house–which if you know salespeople, is hard to do. He gets closer to me, showing me picture after picture of him with his happy clients. When he finally gives me a quote, he rambles about his devotion to customers and how he personally drives all his clients on fun excursions to pick out their dream granite countertops. Maybe he even has a hot convertible for these customer service trips–if I were his manager, I would definitely do that.
Mr. Hot Guy gives me a quote that is almost five times over the market rate and tells me that when I choose him, my happiness will be his #1 priority–even over the quality of the kitchen cabinet work. (He lost me there. I’m looking for kitchen cabinets not a pretend boyfriend.) But sorry, this is not going to work on me. In my former life, I’ve spent almost 30 years in sales, the music and electronics industries. We drink, hire showgirls, strippers, whoever, and whatever that gets seals the deal.
I notice from the videos and pictures of his happy female customers with modest townhouse-size kitchens who cannot easily afford to spend 30, 40k on kitchen remodeling. He talks about helping his customer finance remodeling projects against the house, and then my mind goes back to work–the enormous financial and health cost of loneliness and declining social and mental health. Let’s value each other more and make more frequent connections. People shouldn’t have to overpay for their kitchen cabinets so that someone would go shopping with them and treat them like they matter 😟
Loneliness is not just pseudo-science or a state of mind. It is rampant, and it has real-life economic and health impacts. The U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murth has declared loneliness a public health epidemic this May, and continues to prompt prioritization of loneliness the same way tobacco, substance abuse, and obesity have been. Research published in Perspectives on Psychological Science reveals that loneliness can increase the risk of premature death by 26%, and another study from the National Academy of Sciences indicates that social isolation and loneliness can increase the risk of having heart attacks or strokes by 29% and 32%, respectively.
Loneliness is especially acute for mothers, caregivers and seniors. Motherhood is a beautiful lifelong journey–it has been a transformative and healing experience for me–but it can also be incredibly isolating, especially when children are younger or have higher needs. Friendships evolve, or sometimes dissolve, when you become a mother. The logistics of multiple kids, school, playdates, and sports almost dictate that mothers confine their social interaction to only the parents of their kids’ friends. The societal pressure to balance work and family and women’s disproportional share of household duties exacerbates the issue.
From an economic perspective, loneliness comes with a price tag of $6.7 billion annually in additional federal spending on health, according to the AARP’s Loneliness Study, which studies loneliness among seniors. That cost inevitably stresses its weight on society’s shoulders. I conjecture that the cost of loneliness in older adults is much higher than that estimate. Everyone knows seniors who talk to salespeople, buying more than they need just for social interaction. After retirement, older adults don’t have even superficial structured social connections that generally happen at work. They brave, more and more alone, the increasing loss of loved ones and declining memory, muscle and bone mass, and general health. The absence of social connections has severe consequences on their mental, cognitive, and physical well-being.
This predicament that I see all around gets me up for work in the morning. I’m tired of just talking about the problem. Let’s start repairing, healing, and connecting NOW. At curaJOY, I’m working with pioneers of AI in behavioral health along with the support of AWS Health Equity Initiative, CTIA Wireless Foundation Catalyst, kore.ai, eager new graduates from master’s degree programs at Carnegie Mellon, the University of Washington, etc., and the ever-so-important behavioral health clinicians. I hope all of them are as proud as me to be tackling this monumental societal problem. Together, we’re using AI, big data and virtual reality technologies not to send hot kitchen remodeling salespeople to you but to help parents communicate and discipline positively to stay connected with their kids, employers to easily personalize and implement inclusion practices and management styles for happier workers and bottom-lines, and kids to access critical care without being labeled or transportation blockers. Thank you for joining me to become part of the solution.
This work is just so exciting and so needed. We are still pre-launch, so I better not give too much away and veer from our GTM schedule. But until we deliver our solution, ditch the overpriced kitchen cabinets and call up or even text your grandparents or busy mom friends and let them know they are still relevant and you still care.
p.s. However, if you are in the San Diego area and would like Mr. Hot Guy’s number, I still have his card 😉 No judgments!