Touch and COVID-19

photo by iMattSmart

The reshaping of touch by the Covid-19 pandemic is an issue that In-Touch is engaged with across all of our case studies and project methodologies.

Our new case studies (introduced below) interrogate the social experiences and narratives of touch in Covid-19 times through a focus on  its influence on the place of touch and the digital in social in landscapes of communication and attention to how people’s experiences are shaping narratives or practices of digital touch. We take a ‘long view’ of change and continuity of touch in relation to the pandemic by connecting our current studies with InTouch studies conducted pre-Covid-19. Collectively these studies seek to:

  • Map what (if any) touch continuities and changes are key for this ‘new’ social landscape
  • Describe any emergent or evolving touch communicative experiences or practices
  • Identify the social and cultural factors that are in play in the work of tactile reshaping
  • Explore the potential role of digital in this changing landscape
  • Identify insights gleaned that might inform the design and development of touch communication technologies

Our methods, how we research, are also being shaped by the pandemic. We are moving our research studies, activities and tools online to bring our research methodologies for touch into the context of Covid-19 restrictions on social distancing and touch.  The In-Touch Method page will be updated to map these changes as they unfold.

The In-Touch blog and podcasts also share recent reflections on touch in Covid-Times.

Five new case studies for touch in Covid-19 times
The four projects attend to different strands of touch experience and provide a route through which we can explore the multimodal and experiential transitions and responses to touch-scapes shaped by the pandemic as they unfold over time and the role of technology in mediating these experiences. 

The Lockdown diaries

This collaborative project aims to foster interdisciplinary conversations between social science, choreographers, dancers and sound artists, to articulate and promote understanding of people’s sensorial experiences of Lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic, where social distancing and avoidance of physical contact restricted touch. Working with diary materials (collected from artists and sensory researchers) it explores embodied routes through which people can explore their affective experiences of and emergence from Lockdown to re-connect with the ‘new normal’ of interactions with others and environments.

Newspaper discourses of ‘touch’ in the age of COVID-19

This case study locates and critically examines British newspaper discourses of ‘touch’ and digitally mediated personal relationships during COVID-19, with reference to touch and the digital in the lead-up to the 2020 pandemic. Broadsheet newspapers across the socio-political spectrum play a role in creating, shaping and reflecting narratives of touch and social relations. Their construction of touch topics and sensitivities, amplified or dispersed in a variety of social, cultural and political contexts, inform and organise how we think about and experience touch. Their versions of the world impact on the ‘types’ of touch we know and imagine, on who touches and how. Likewise, media representations of emerging technologies matter. They create and assess contexts of use and, in the process, imbue them with social life, with possible norms, rules, relations and moralities.

Designing Digital Touch #2

We are digitalising the Designing Digital Touch toolkit developed through research on the process of designing digitally mediated touch, with attention to the social and sensory aspects of design. It aims to provoke and support designers to put touch at the centre of their design research, thinking and prototyping.  It is the result of a research collaboration between social science researchers and design educators. The tool kit fosters and explore design themes that arise in the current moment filtered through the tactile landscape of Covid-19.

A manifesto for Touch in Crisis

We are engaged in the development of a Manifesto for Touch in Crisis. The aim of the manifesto is to offer a provocative vision designed to ignite debate, raise awareness, inspire and direct the design of social touch.  This is a collaboration with academic and industry colleagues in the field of haptics including computer scientists, engineers and HCI designers. The manifesto is an activity sparked by the Eurohaptics 2020 conference workshop Designing digital touch: social and sensory aspects and challenges.

Thresholds of Touch #2

Through an ongoing artistic collaboration we are revisiting an interactive touchy performance experiment – Thresholds of Touch which was held six weeks before London Locked down (due to Covid-19). Building out from the experiences of this event we continue our collaboration to explore touch in times of Covid-19 towards future work.

photo by engin akyurt