Thursday, October 15, 2009

the eros of multitouch

When Apple Inc. bought Fingerworks in 2005 nobody noticed so much, but that relatively small acquisition represented a crucial bridge crossed on the long, strange trip toward true intimacy with our machines.

Fingerworks brought multitouch into the Apple fold, and changed the point-and-click metaphor forever. Multitouch lets us tickle that perfectly smooth glass face to massage information in and out of the machine. Lots of companies implement multitouch now in different forms and flavors, but Apple blasted it into the mainstream with the iPhone.

Now there are tens of millions of opportunities to watch spidery fingers manipulate maps or 3d objects across that magical little tablet, probing and caressing their devices to coax responses from them.

It's more intimate than fingering strings or a keyboard, or driving a car or working with even the most subtle and precise types of hand tools. There is little frustration in it, since its subtleties are quickly and naturally learned. Like running one's fingers in small, gentle circles along the skin of an unfamiliar breast or other sensitive anatomical focus, the response is not initially predictable but once experienced is riveting and unforgettable.

Haptic and tactile feedback are coming, further intensifying the sensuality of the humachine. We'll feel its response and it will keep getting better at feeling ours.

All of it would seem pretty creepy if we weren't so involved and committed to this direction already. If we were looking in from 1950, say, or 1850, or from any place or time comparatively primitive we would stare open-mouthed and speechless at this unnatural spectacle of machines seducing their way into our bodies and brains.

We're often numbed to the most profound experiences while we're actively participating in them. It all just seems more ordinary and obvious while we're doing it than when we were fantasizing about it beforehand. Or afterward. So consider it a little, at least now and then. Watch the evidence accumulate. We're handing ourselves over to the machines, and while it's fun and novel and convenient and smart and even sort of erotic sometimes - the speed and inevitability of it should be unsettling.

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