A Refresher Course on the Importance of Touch
Physical intimacy matters and it may be gaining traction.
Posted Jul 24, 2019
On July 13, 2019, Courtney Maum published a brilliant essay in the New York Times on the loss of intimacy—especially through physical touch—in today’s world. Two hundred seventy-four comments appeared before the Comments section was officially closed and I missed my chance to chime in.
This topic remains near and dear to my heart. I have written two posts for “Life, Refracted” that address the subject directly—one specifically on touch, and, more recently, the post, "Is Fear of Intimacy Becoming the New Normal?" In a variation on the importance of sexual touching, especially to older consenting adults, I have reviewed research on the benefits of touch for them from seven different perspectives. More indirectly, I have mused about the potentially negative impact of technology on our close relationships, even as it makes the logistical aspects of them more convenient.
In her essay, Maum describes potential dangers of emotional and physical isolation as we rely increasingly on robots like Gatebox, “a holographic girlfriend," or otherwise allow people who want to sell us stuff to promote “self-care as a stand-in for intimacy." Extreme consequences of our loss of contact with each other in the material world have been highlighted in films such as Ex Machina (2015), in which a robotic girlfriend leads to the destruction of body and soul or, for a positive outcome, Lars and the Real Girl (2007), in which an inflatable doll provides a segue to genuine interpersonal contact following trauma, or Robot and Frank (2012), in which a mechanical creature loaded with artificial intelligence can mitigate isolation. The 2011 Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) exhibition, Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects, offered prototypes for the future, in which screens provide alternative relationships to those between real people; many of them have come to market in the brief years since the show. Maum, a trendspotter specializing in cultural fashions, hopes she is seeing the end to our reluctance to touch each other physically and, inevitably, more energetically and spiritually. I would love her to be right.
Maum, from her perspective — that what is peaking predicts what will abate — observes that we are now sliding into energetic isolation. We are surrounded and pummeled by noise, much of it non-human, and pulling within rather than reaching out for physical support from each other. Without contact, we risk:
- A crisis in attachment and fewer secure friendships between people. People need physical touch to thrive as much as did Harlowe's monkeys.
- Increased depression and a shortage of personal relationships that can counteract it.
- The loss of the critical resource of social support, sacrificed along with loss of a strong connection to each other, in the event of a crisis or emergency.
- Increased dependence on electronics which are bound to frustrate us at the least, and fail us at the worst. They are inevitably demanding, if only because of human errors in entering data.
The only ways to combat these trends are to withdraw from the interpersonal world or to purify what is toxic, fighting against the cultural stream of more and more and faster and faster, unless Courtney Moam is right and her predictions come to pass. Is it possible we will decide that a walk with a friend, perhaps even hand-in-hand, or a shared meal complete with conversation, or perhaps even full-on sexual satisfaction can restore our natural wiring and allow us to find pleasures in meeting our basic needs, including those of physical touch that can energetically connect us to each other?
Copyright 2019 Roni Beth Tower
Moam, C. (2019) . Please Touch Me. The New York Times, July 13, 2019