*(Photo: Suzy Monzer)
Suzy Monzer from the University of Technology Sydney and Alina Lackerbauer from Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt Germany, explored the ways people are staying connected during COVID-19.
Sara Sharon has been in a long-distance relationship for two years.
But living in Romania while her partner is in Italy has been a struggle, with family commitments keeping them apart. When the pandemic came, their situation became harder to manage.
“It was hard before… but after the pandemic arrived it was like a diet. When you’re told you can’t eat the food, it’s harder,” she said.
In an attempt to bridge the distance, the couple went looking for products that would make them feel closer to each other.
“There’s a big market out there. Bond bracelets that buzz when your partner touches [his] own, love boxes that have parts that spin when a partner sends you a message, night lights that flicker where your partner is, when you touch your own.”
Bond bracelets seemed most suitable for Ms Sharon’s busy lifestyle since they were controlled by an app and could be with her at all times.
“It’s been a very important thing for us. When we first met… on Valentine’s Day, the first thing we noticed was a physical connection when we hugged.”
Couples and Family Therapist at Relationships Australia Melissa Luttringer, says that physical disconnection can take a severe toll on relationships.
“The uncertainty, stress and sadness around being apart, tests the relationship,” she said.
“FaceTime, video calls and regular check-ins are so important, and although these check-ins don’t replace physical touch and physical closeness, people need to adjust and be creative during isolation.”
Multiple companies have created interactive technologies aimed at helping couples feel closer to each other.
Samarth Singhal, a Professor from the School of Interactive Arts and Technology in Canada, says that physical intimacy is significant in a relationship.
“We all use digital media on a regular basis, but it lacks the physical sensation of the intimacy you need, especially with your partner,” he said.
Prof. Singhal is the inventor of “Flex-N-Feel”, a Lycra sensor-fitted glove that allows you to send touch sensations or a hug, or even massage your partner over a video call.
“You can put the Feel glove on your body and move it around… it is like moving your partner’s arm to different parts of the body.”
The touch signals are transmitted using the same WiFi connection you establish on a video call.
Although the world of inventions and entrepreneurship is fast-paced, Prof. Singhal says that human-touch is a field yet to be explored in depth.
“Obviously [the gloves] lack the warmth of a real touch, they cannot replicate that, so vibrotactile sensations are the closest you can get to human touch at this point.”
The gloves are not yet on the market, but Prof. Singhal is confident that people will be on the lookout for such products, especially after the global COVID-19 pandemic.”
“I think people are going to look for solutions to replicate touch – not just couples,” Prof. Singhal said.
“I was presenting this glove at a demo and there was an elderly woman who lives far away in a senior living house, and her kids aren’t able to visit her.
“So, she was telling me how happy it would make her if her son could send her a touch, and that it would mean a lot to her.”
— Suzy Monzer @suzy_monzer and Alina Lackerbauer