Originally published on the Laughing Stalk humor blog.
I’m a hugger.
I like hugging people when I greet them, assuming I know them fairly well. People I know less well get a firm, but warm handshake. I appreciate physical contact among friends and family. The pat on the back. The reassuring squeeze on the shoulder. The high five.
And the hug.
I believe that nothing can replace the warmth of physical contact, and even in the growing world of social media — online networking, remote relationships, and video phone calls — physical touch is very important. It’s what makes us feel loved and special.
So I was more than a little disturbed by the story in The (London) Guardian about the new Like-A-Hug vest invented by a group of MIT students who apparently never got enough hugs when they were kids.
Whenever you get a “Like” from someone on Facebook, the Like-A-Hug vest will inflate like a life jacket and “hug” you. When a friend likes a status update you made, a comment, a photo, or a video, you’ll “feel the warmth, encouragement, support or love that we feel when we receive hugs,” team member Melissa Kit Chow told the Guardian.
The team developed the Like-A-Hug as part of an exercise in tactile shape display, technology that lets you feel a touch normally given in a virtual or online environment. In other words, if someone “touched” you online, you’d feel it in the real world.
“We came up with the concept over a casual conversation about long-distance relationships and the limitations of video chat interfaces like Skype,” said Chow. “The concept of telepresence arose, and we toyed with the idea of receiving hugs via wireless technology.”
The team is still working on what the vest will do for other Facebook interactions, like when your status updates and photos are “shared.” What happens if someone “follows” your status updates? Do you get a tingling up your spine? And what happens if you get “poked?”
If you’re like me, you just started giggling about “poking.”
And with Facebook’s proposed new “want” button, just what exactly would that entail?
Many social media haters have complained that social networking is taking the place of good old-fashioned human interaction, and secludes us from each other. While social media has actually had the opposite effect — by deepening relationships much faster and creating new ones that never would have existed — I have to admit the Like-A-Vest is a big weapon in the haters’ arsenal. A big, warm fuzzy weapon that cradles you in its warm embrace.
It’s not lost on me that the people who developed the hugging vest are probably among the same group of people — computer nerds — who are renowned for avoiding real-world human interaction, and instead flock to their computers for emotional support and human companionship, and end up secretly, desperately craving physical human contact.
So instead of spending time in a coffee shop, bar, networking group, or social event trying to meet real people they can get to know in real life, they instead spent all their time in a lab creating a vest that simulates the warm huggy feeling everyone else gets because they spent their time meeting people in coffee shops, bars, networking groups, and social events.
Irony, thy name is Like-A-Vest.
But while I think the whole idea of getting fake hugs from a puffy vest is silly, especially when I get real hugs from real people, I do like the idea of clothing where the wearers can get tactice feedback remotely.
For example, football players can receive a congratulatory pat on the butt from a coach with their Pat-A-Butt pants, without the coach ever having to actually touch a player’s sweaty butt. Dogs could wear little vests called Pet-A-Dog, which allergic people could use to still own dogs. And mama’s boys could wear it on their honeymoon so their moms can continue to maintain a stranglehold on their man-child, protecting him from that “evil harpy.”
While I would never begrudge anyone a hug — assuming they weren’t, you know, icky or anything — or even the technology to simulate hugs, I would like to encourage anyone who is considering the Like-A-Vest to go outside. Talk to some real people. Make some real life friends who will give you real life hugs.
Because the ones called @HawtPartyGurl93 don’t seem like the kind of people you want to hug in real life.