You might be thinking that all garments touch you. But we’re not talking about regular contact here. There are actually garments that are linked with phone and Internet technologies that when activated, feel like someone is touching you. Creepy or cool? You decide.
One of the difficulties in our society is the degree of disconnect and the degree of discomfort we sometimes feel with human touch. This results from a lack of education and practice with physical touch. Yet, we absolutely need human contact in order to live well.
In some ways technology has widened the disconnect we already have with touch, in some ways it uses the need for tactile sensation for it’s own agenda, and in other ways still it is being used to provide human-like touch when it would otherwise not be possible.
With more and more people traveling for work for extended periods, and with more people experiencing heavy social anxiety related to touch, technology could be the link that ironically keeps us in touch with one another.
There are now a few companies, and research teams like Dzmitry Tsetserukou‘s team at the Toyohashi University of Technology, who are creating haptic garments to transfer touch over the Internet.
Hugging garments and garments that tickle, induce emotions like fear and anger are all under development in an attempt to help us connect more physically and emotionally when we are too far apart to make that contact ourselves. Tsetserukou’s intention for this work is to help create an immersive and emotional experience (over distance), essentially augmenting the use of text, audio or visual communication, which aren’t typically as emotive as touch.
On the other side of things, Durex® has also jumped in on this vein of product development and has launched “fundawear”, which is underwear that touches based on a phone app that links you to your partners undergarments! There always has to be someone that makes it sexual.
It might seem both useful and a little creepy given the above examples, but there are also those who believe that this type of technology could be used to help people who are experiencing certain psychological conditions.
We know that physical touch helps to reduce anxiety, and there is some preliminary evidence to suggest that haptic garments can elicit at least some of the emotional and behavioural effects of human touch. In the context of those who have severe anxiety, haptic garments could play a supportive role in therapeutic intervention. (Read more about the social impact of touch: “That human touch that means so much: Exploring the tactile dimension of social life“).
Regardless of where you fall on the “cool” or “creepy” scale, if used appropriately, this technology could help to bring us closer together when we’re further apart.
The trick will be ensuring that we don’t use garments to replace real, human contact, but instead to augment, educate on, and improve accessibility to compassionate touch.
Like this article? Read more about Technology & Touch in our Quarterly E-Magazine edition (article originally published there).