Starting from the turn of the century to the current COVID pandemic, a very important change in the epistemological perception of knowledge is taking place. The common thought is that our knowledge as humans is wildly constructed through the intersection of two of our senses- our touch and our vision. With one of the two out of the equation, a newborn will probably have something missing in its perception of the world around it. Added to that is the concept of light (also related to vision) in many cultures; Whatever is in the darkness is subject to be perceived as nonexistent, threatening- the unknown.
However the rise of visual culture and the bombardment of imagery on different screens with the thrive of contemporary digital technology has changed the rules of the game. Affirmation of what is REAL, existing, does not have to go through touch anymore. In fact, with the COVID-19 pandemic, bodies and touch are considered dangerous, toxic, sinister. In order to exist we must NOT touch.
Consequently we should expect a chain reaction that will inflict the way we engage with other living creatures, objects, space. For example, the idea of intimacy is questioned, and so is the notion of boundaries or borders and obviously our own physicality and bodies (e.g. in a child’s upbringing, touching the infants body helps form a mental image of his own physical presence and understand the range of possible actions he/she can use to interact with the world. With touch being overthrown by vision and even noise sensors used in a child’s early years, this might drastically change and affect the new generations).
I would like to suggest that, to an extent, the Haptics project is degenerating. It presents itself as a futuristic practice in order to endorse the development of technologies, but in fact investigates skills we already acquired when we were only weeks if not days old. The apparatus reframes the notion of touch according to the market and the production of commodities, while in reality it almost takes us back in time to very basic ways of using this sense.
This connects directly to the idea of “Becoming Computable”. A touch produces knowledge not only as it transfers information, but it also provokes a response carried back by the touching instrument and in other channels. Every touch has an impact both ways. It is also situated as Maria Puig de La Bellacasa claims in “Touching Visions”, and does not merely react by reflecting what was given, but adds other dimensions and expands (diffractions). The Haptics project, as it is still somewhat focused on HOW to transmit this very complex information, might not produce yet a rich enough stimulation for our engagement as it is, for example, with other humans. It is reductive. This is to explain maybe why it sometimes feels like an exercise more than an actual encounter. It is also to suggest why it is easier for us to engage with, and for the market to sell it to us back as a great invention- it is almost too easy to operate, and has no “tiring” byproducts as it is for example with other humans.
Consequences are ample, especially with our growing detachment from the world of things and the strengthening bond with images and simulacra. Having just the sense of vision at play or using touch in a simplified mediated way to cause certain reactions builds a buffer between us and the world as we know it. Moreover, is flattens the experience and simplifies it turning it more generic, global, and certainly not unique. Although uniqueness might be perceived as an illusion, this illusion to me equals vitality.
On the other hand, Haptics does open the door to an expansion of our presence and sensing abilities, and I admit that I haven’t yet experienced enough of it to feel it on my own body. From my experience as a dancer, I found it mind-blowing to have an ability of concentrating on how I sense with somatic techniques (Alexander technique, Gaga, BMC, Tai Chi, Contact Improvisation etc.). It will be very interesting to linger in these moments of Haptic experiences and try to decipher whether it adds subtracts or is “else” to the experience of sensorial stimulation- especially touch- that I am used to. In addition, returning to the COVID-19 situation, it will be fascinating to investigate how the pandemic effected the sensors and sensing abilities of the generation that grew up quite young in these restrictive/different terms of engagement with the world.