Being apart from your honey stings like a bee-atch, and, as Jackie recently reported here, the cost of fuel is making it harder to keep things sweet. Long-distance couples have plenty of keyboardy, computery ways to keep in touch — e-mail, IM, Skype — but those tools can be too task-oriented and disruptive. Over at Wired magazine, Regina Lynn recently explored the budding field of “tele-amore” — a whole new world of technology that may help “intimacy, playfulness and common experiences.” As Lynn writes: “Despite the frenzy around social media applications, we still don’t have sensual devices that extend that functionality beyond virtual space.” The gizmos she describes are all about nonverbal communication (but we’re not talking about “teledildonics”).
We’re talking, for one thing, about “ambient intimacy objects” — you know, like the ambient orb. They’ve been around for a few years in certain iterations (I’ve seen that orb giving a weather report!, but some researchers think they could do more. As Lynn reports: “Joseph Kaye, a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University studying human-computer interaction, developed the Virtual Intimate Object, or VIO, to study the effect of low-bandwidth applications on long-distance intimacy. The VIO is a dot that sits in your system tray (Windows) or desktop (Mac) and monitors an identical dot on your partner’s computer. When your partner clicks his or her dot, yours fills with color; as time goes by without a click, the color slowly fades until the circle is just an outline.” Worked for the couples who road-tested it: After one week, “participants had several suggestions for additional functionality: a choice of colors, the option to play a sound, and the ability to replace the circle with their own set of graphics. They had become emotionally engaged not just with their partners, but with the application,” writes Lynn. “If you can get all that from a 2-D dot, think what you could do with an object you can touch.”
To have one of our own, alas, we’ll have to look into the future (10 minutes from now?). “Unfortunately, the closest thing I can find to that type of technology for consumers is the Nabaztag rabbit, a wireless device that connects with other Nabaztag rabbits over the internet. From a strictly romantic standpoint, they one-up the Chumby and the Tux Droid in that the rabbits can ‘marry’ each other, so that when one partner moves their rabbit’s ears, the paired rabbit’s ears move the same way.” (Man. Remember when it was all about Furby?)
In any regard, the awesome here is that technology innovators are at least thinking about the sweet spot. For the moment, though, Wall-E can help us dream of wordless techno-romance.