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SXSW Interactive 2015

The Future of Touch: You Can't Hug a Status Update

As geeks, we have intimate relationships with our devices. Apps like Secret, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Tumblr give us a kind of virtual oxytocin bump, but there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. So what’s the cost? Technology can facilitate intimate bonds; and it can also drive us into a self-created isolation, much like what happens to Raj with Siri in Big Bang Theory or Theo with Samantha in Her. Bonding with our devices does not eliminate our need for physical human contact. Touch is a basic human need. Traditionally, touch is constrained to the structure of sexual relationships as illustrated by the relationship escalator model. But more and more people are exploring physical contact in non-sexual relationships/interactions. Join us as we examine how society suffers by not separating sex from touch, and how our personal and professional lives can be enhanced by overcoming the social and cultural barriers that keep us, quite literally, at arm's length from one another.

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  1. Does social media and technology bring people closer together? Do apps like Secret, Facebook, Twitter etc really foster intimacy? Are there differences between face-to-face and text based interactions? What are the benefits and the costs?
  2. Why doesn’t our society separate sex from touch? As it becomes harder to find partners in our over-scheduled, over-stimulated world, how do you get your touch needs met if you're not in an intimate relationship? Is this lack of physical contact why we are so attracted to our tech? How does this affect people perpetually friend zoned?
  3. Oxytocin has been touted as a miracle drug for migraines, heart disease and autism. It naturally occurs in the body and is generated through human touch, but the research pushes it as a drug which is medicalized and monetized by the pharmaceutical companies. What is oxytocin? What are some of the recent studies, both pro and con, of this hormone? Does it promote trust and intimacy? If so, do personal tech devices promote trust and intimacy or is it an illusion that drives us all apart?
  4. We are told from the time we are young that touch is bad and dangerous and shouldn’t be shared with anyone outside of intimate relationships. How do we create a culture or society that makes it okay to ask for non-sexual touch? How do we create healthy boundaries and an environment where we can balance respect for the wishes of others with our own desires? How does this work when many people in the tech industry have ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, etc.?
  5. What might the future look like if we acknowledged our need for consensual, non-sexual touch and learned to ask for, give and receive it? Would we have more compassion for others? Would we be better communicators, have more patience and less stress? Would we buy less stuff, spend less time online and more time offline with real-life, flesh and blood humans? Can we create a Simian Zone, something in between surface conversations with strangers and pair-bonded relationships?



Epiphany Jordan, Chief Oxytocin Provider, Karuna Sessions

Meta Information:

  • Tags: relationships, culture
  • Event: Interactive
  • Format: Panel
  • Track: WTF and Beyond
  • Level: Intermediate
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