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High tech calls for ‘high touch’

High tech calls for ‘high touch’ High tech calls for ‘high touch’

I can still see Missi Bush Sawtelle’s grandmother sitting under a big shade tree sorting napkins. Missi and I had been on a productive junking trip and had found a large box of linen napkins for a small price. We sat together in the Indiana summer heat and chatted gleefully about our ‘finds’ of the day. Grandmother Bush started fishing in the box and pulling out one after another big white linen dinner napkins. She would place a napkin on her diminished lap, smooth it out from the center to the four corners and then fold it methodically. Her tiny hands would smooth again the cloth after each fold as if to finalize the action she had just taken. I had as a child watched other older women repeat these same movements and even now can almost feel the fibers of fine linen when I replay the occasion in my mind’s eye. There is something that feels wonderful about running one’s fingers over finely woven fabric.
I love old hand-woven rugs and have quite a collection from several countries. Folks are always asking me why I have so many and what I plan to do with them. I will unroll them when I find a good audience and share their beauty.
When I handle these rugs, I feel the presence of the women who wove them and the conditions of their households where they were used. They bring me back with my friends in other countries that I rarely get to visit.
I rather like the rerolling process and stacking them up again neatly for display. My satisfaction is as that of Grandmother Bush, who must have been recalling, as she folded white linen napkins, her years of entertaining friends as the keeper of a household.
Show me old woodwork in a historic building and my hands itch to run over its surface. I delight in the satin finish of a pristine antique and the rough surface that bears a patina from years of use. These are the souvenirs of people who, as they did their dance with life, left their mark on objects in years gone by.
My mother had the same need to touch and feel everything around her. She too loved textiles, wooden surfaces and smooth rocks. We never were a ‘touchy-feely’ family in the manner of human interaction; too German for that I have always believed. I had to learn to feel comfortable with casual hugs later in life while being in the world of public service.
Scientific journals in 2015 tell of the vital roll ‘touch’ plays in human development. Dasher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California has written, ‘In recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that came from touch. The research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding and health.’
Developmental delay is often found in children who receive inadequate or inappropriate sensory stimulation. Remember when it was discovered that orphans in Romania were swaddled tightly in blankets and left alone in cribs? These babies exhibited impaired growth and cognitive development as well as increased cases of serious infections and attachment disorders. It was decided that they suffered not as much from missing their mothers as from the lack of plain human touch. When a consistent amount of tactile stimulus was given to the orphans, they attained higher scores on developmental assessments. It has been confirmed that most of our kids do better in schools when appropriately touched.
In an article by researchers Mandy Tjew A Sin and Sander L. Koole, they note, ‘Over the centuries, various forms of interpersonal touch have become less and less common, squelched under an onslaught of changing cultural values and new technology. We increasingly view touch as unhygienic and even invasive, as in the case of sexual harassment, for example. And sequestering ourselves behind phones and laptop screens has only exacerbated the trend.’
Meanwhile, research finds that even ‘fleeting forms of touch may have a powerful impact on our emotional and social functioning. These findings could have far-ranging implications for the role of touch in everyday life and point to important application in therapy and virtual communication.’
I remember reading probably 15 years ago those first writers on our changing world stating that ‘the more the world becomes high tech, the more we need high touch.’ It gives us an anchor, a support in life amidst an increasingly impersonal society.
I was stunned to read of interviews with 1,502 parents of children ages 4 to 18 in which 34 percent admitted talking to their children more via mobile devices than face to face. It prompted this column.
In the process of doing research, I found an interesting development on a CNN feed. Ivan Poupyrev, the principle research scientist at Disney’s Interaction Group, said in his view the future will see ‘touch screens on mobile devices, tablets, laptops, tables and walls. Everything will be touch-sensitive in the future, and we need tactile feedback to make it more useful and usable.’
The economics of ‘more touch’ is hitting home and will cause change. We have yet to see if a picture on Skype with a sensory feedback will give us the same sense of connectedness as the old pat on the back.