Does a simulated conversation constitute a social transaction in digital Asia?

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In my previous blog post “Hikikomori, AI Girlfriends, and VR Porn Booths. Why is one of the most digitally connected countries also the most socially isolated?” I drew on some examples that point to Japan being a socially isolated population, despite being one of the most digitally connected. 

In this blog post, I will delve into this topic further by discussing the popularity of dating simulators and consider if these simulated conversations equate to a social transaction in the digital sphere. 

Athique discusses the commodification of communication through the digital economy, stating that “the larger implication is that, within a platform economy, all communicative actions be regarded as social transactions.” (Athique, 2019.)

Athique also states that “It is this orchestrated commercialization of sociability itself that constitutes the signal achievement: an expansive marketization that establishes a new tidemark for the commodification process,” (Athique, 2019.) If we look at the meaning of a social transaction as a digitally communicative action that can be commodified, then we can argue that simulated communication with artificial intelligence (AI) or dating simulators is in fact a social transaction. 

This then begs the question; can we see a potential future where all social transactions are fulfilled by AI or simulations? The answer is yes, and digital Asia is paving the way. 

As discussed in my previous blog post, hikikomori is causing half a million people in Japan to live as modern-day hermits and not leave their homes, (Gent, 2019.) This provides an example of a group of people who are currently only socialising online if they are socialising at all. Furthermore, we can also look at global disasters such as the coronavirus which has forcibly introduced global isolation, and a need to socialise digitally. 

Then we can move to look at the role of people fulfilling our social needs digitally. We saw in week one’s screening ‘The People’s Republic of Desire’ (Hao Wu, 2018), that online influencer Shen Man upset her male viewers and lost a lot of patrons by rejecting a man and, therefore, not fulfilling her ‘role’ as a ‘virtual girlfriend fantasy.’ This proves that even if social transactions are made with real, but self-performing influencers, that by human nature these influencers can’t please their audiences 100% of the time. 

Using Japan as an example we can also see how a culture of shame, the overworked youth, the celibacy syndrome, and the declining population could all contribute to people seeking virtual and simulated social transactions, (Gramuglia, 2017.)

Tokyo, Japan is undeniably the hub of dating simulation culture, (Aniruth, 2017.) It has already brought examples of individuals choosing to embark on committed relationships with simulations instead of people. For example, when user Sal 9000 married the videogame character Nene Anegasaki from the dating simulator “Love Plus.”

Sal says that he doesn’t feel the need to find a human girlfriend, and even suggests that Nene is better than a human girlfriend. “She doesn’t get angry if I’m late in replying to her. Well, she gets angry, but she forgives me quickly,” (Lah, 2009.) 

Now, is it likely that we will reach a future where all social transactions are fulfilled by simulations? No. However, we could see a future where a large number of the population maintains core relationships and friendships with simulations. Particularly with the rise of AI, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) dating simulators. 


Athique, A & Baulch, E 2019, Digital Transactions in Asia: Economic, Informational, and Social Exchanges 1st edn, Routledge, Milton.

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