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Plugging Privacy

There is a lot of talk about networking in business, both online and offline, but there are times when it is better to work alone. Filling the need are products designed to help people disconnect.

One can be found at a cafeteria at a Japanese university. It was given a new seating arrangement last year which the students quickly gave a nickname. They call them "botchi seats." "Botchi" is Japanese for "alone," and that's what the wall-side tables offer students looking for some private space. "I don't have to worry about other people," one student says. "It's nice to eat alone." Another says "I feel more comfortable eating alone when I want to check Twitter or chat online."

Tadashi Ohtsuki of the Tokyo Institute of Technology Co-op says "we have all kinds of students these days. I think setting up the seats helped widened the choices available for those who want to eat alone."

Another invention offers solitude, any time, any place. The product is made from cardboard, which users assemble into a box and attach a smartphone or a tablet computer. The private screening begins when the user lies under the box. The Solo Theater is set to go on sale soon. The developer is confident it will sell after he sought help online to commercialize his idea and raised more funds than expected.

"Frankly, the response was beyond expectation, though I hoped some people would be interested," says Satoshi Aoyagi of Lucy Alter Design. "I guess we were able to meet the needs of those who want to see a movie alone, lying down."

A stall the recent Tokyo Game show attracted a steady crowd who lined up to test a tent for indoor use. The Botchi Tent sells for around 70 dollars. The maker began pitching its privacy solution a year ago and sales are beating targets.

The product was developed in-house by an employee who wanted to focus on his work and so set up a tent over his desk. "Some people at my company were skeptical at first," recalls Hayato Kawase. "They asked 'what's this'? So I felt like I was being criticized, but when I put my colleagues inside and they said they wanted one for their desks. So I thought this could do well."

The people behind these products say the market has room to grow. Many people in our networked world are craving solitude and they'll happily pay for some low-tech privacy.

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