Touch in the Abstract


One expresses oneself at the computer almost exclusively through the mouse and keyboard. Vision is nearly indispensable, and hearing plays a supporting role, but these senses are unusually constrained at the computer, as active input falls to the fingertips. At the computer, you express yourself, communicate your desires, by executing a gesture chosen from among a very few possibilities: you can click a key on the keyboard, move the mouse, or click the mouse. That’s it. Specialized speech-based interface augmentations are available; there are eye motion detectors and other alternative mouse-control techniques; touchscreens are proliferating in certain categories of device. But the great bulk of us continue to use the mouse and keyboard as our primary and even our only means of communicating desire to the computer. It is remarkable that so much desire gets expressed, such a breadth of different ideas passes through this restricted interface, fingertips against plastic. The interface evidently assigns the sense of touch a particular prominence in the expression of desire. What kind of desire gets expressed via touch, and what kind of touch touches the interface?

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