Fear and clothing: The touchy subject of the human touch
A reflection on the vagaries and charms of fashion
Apparently people are not touching each other much anymore. By this I do not mean creepy inappropriate touching. I mean touching. Because the creepy inappropriate touching has become such a thing, people are doing less normal day-to-day touching. Because so many hands rested on so many knees without being welcome there, the gentle pat on the arm from a stranger is fast becoming a thing of the past. And random hugs are now subject to the 30cm rule which was something we had at school. To stop the touching.
Whether the fear of becoming embroiled in sexual harassment suits or a social isolation effect brought on by addiction to our screens, there’s no doubt that humans around the globe are touching each other less and less. There’s a lot of research to back this up – and so in order to deal with the psychological side effects of anomie, stress and loneliness brought on by this lack of touching an entire cottage industry for touching has sprung up. In Japan there is a Tranquility Chair that gently cuddles the sitter in its warm embrace.In the US, businesses such as Cuddle Up to Me sell 72 cuddle options to the touch-starved populace. And my personal favourite, The Hug Shirt, simulates a hug via a text message.So if your doctor needs to comfort you after transmitting some fatal news, she can simply text you a hug and your shirt will do the rest. No touch, no harm. As for children on a playground who need a bit of tenderness after falling off the jungle gym? A text from the teacher can sort all those tears out pronto. Is it only me or is this really troubling?It sounds like an episode of Black Mirror in fullblown three-dimensional reality. Touch is a hardwired human instinct, crucial to our wellbeing and sense of self, especially in young children. Brain scans of children who have not been touched as infants show that their brain atrophies and does not grow as large as those of children who have been cuddled as babies. Are we losing the plot and along the way crucial bits of our humanity?
No wonder Alexa the intelligent Amazon PA has started laughing randomly apropos nothing. She is freaking out the humans who suddenly hear her eerie giggle. The programmers are frantically working to make her stop.But for a lonely bunch of untouched humans perhaps she’s serving up exactly what they never knew they needed: a virtual hug by way of a disembodied laugh from an algorithm gone wrong. Perhaps she knows something we don’t.