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Touch : the last challenge of ubiquitous technologieS?

French philosopher Michel Serres, in his essay Les Cinq Sens (The Five Senses), explains how we open to the world through our five senses, to which he adds an additional, internal, intimate sense for a more introspective sense of our bodies.

He reflects on what happens when we are deprived from one of those senses. Two of those handicaps are seen as the most important ones : lack of vision - being blind and lack of hearing ability - being deaf. He explains how, culturally, image has been growingly seen as being very rich in information, compared to sound. However, it appears that when a person loses the sense of sight, they are capable of developing impressive intellectual performances. The loss of hearing abilities seems to be heavier, and reaching the same performances without this sense would require more effort. From this he concludes that it isn't certain that image is objectively rich if compared to sound, this could be cultural, and truth might even reside in the opposite.

The loss of taste or smell are now considered much more secondary for humans, which probably wasn’t historically the case. It differentiates humans from animals who have a more vital use of them. The sense of touch would probably come last in the hierarchy of importance.

The works of art have been more or less following this classification, and might have enhanced it. New technologies could be focusing even more on the visual aspect, experiences in virtual reality call the eyes to the highest levels, immersing the user in a complete graphical universe.

Michel Serres on another subject than the five senses talks about how technology has canceled distance and it is for him a mistake to say that it has “reduced” it. In a sense we can be reached anywhere, situated has become secondary.

Apple, instructions to send a touch message

Some tech companies are starting to popularise and spread ways of communicating through what can come close to sending touch.

Wearable watches can send a vibration, and even one that reproduces heart beats, taking the rhythm and frequency input from the sensors on the sender's body. In the current state this is probably a gadget that we would quickly be bored of using, nevertheless the fact that it has been tackled, even at a very primary stage by companies like Apple is significant.

In the art world what we might look most at could be all the works done with wearables. Such as wearable instruments, or physical computing art that responds to pressure.

We can still question the ability they could have to transfer touch, and to perceive it in return, at a distance.

This area appears as an incredibly exciting research field with possibilities open for inventions. Nevertheless, we can also question if it would be desirable that technology allows a distant touch, to what extent, and if it would also be considered touch, even if it reproduced its characteristics. Sight and vision, with smell (that also is difficult to transfer), are originally “distant” senses. Maybe not everything that could be done should be. Could it only make sense to touch through human presence?

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