That human touch that means so much: Exploring the tactile dimension of social life

French novelist Michel Houellebecq (1998) envisioned a future in which all contact between people is mediated by technology. As such, one might wonder if haptic technology can ever replace interpersonal touch. Is being hugged by a haptic jacket as valuable as being hugged by a human being? Will the ultimate high-tech society be completely devoid of human touch? Though provocative, these questions may be largely beside the point. In the foreseeable future, the main use of haptic technology lies not in replacing human touch. Rather, haptic technology provides touch experiences for individuals who will otherwise remain touch-deprived. For instance, individuals with social anxiety, who find it awkward to be touched by people, may find it acceptable to wear a haptic jacket. Likewise, haptic technology may allow parents to hug their children while at work or traveling. New technological developments may thus enable greater numbers of individuals to reap the social and emotional benefits of interpersonal touch.

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