The touch of a button

I recently had a question pop into my head, “are we designing ourselves out of our humanity?” The occasion for said question was a late night work session. I finished up around midnight (I’m one of those lucky folks whose employer allows them at least partial ability to work from home) and wanted nothing more than to lay my weary head into the soft comfort of my pillow. Only problem was my lovely wife had fallen softly so sleep on the couch, in front of the TV. I still find it sweet that she attempts to wait up for me most nights. I reach out to turn off the TV, thinking I know exactly where the “spot” is I need to touch. I say “spot” because this fancy-pants TV doesn’t have any buttons.

Technology without buttons, sound familiar?

Of course, as always happens, I hit the wrong “spot”. TV still on. I move my finger around and around and around. At this point I’ve probably slid my finger over the spot numerous times, but not with the “touch” required to turn the stupid thing off. TV still on. I start tapping, blood pressure rising. Nothing happening, TV still on. ARGH! It may be the numerous 16 hour days catching up with me, or my natural temper, but I flip the lights on (sorry honey) complain about how much better things used to be in the old days (oh God, did I just say that!?) when things actual had buttons and you knew when you were at the right spot. Why does technology insist that everything be so sleek you can’t turn the darn thing off!

So what, you say, who cares about your personal frustrations and inability to work a new TV set?

Truth is, there is probably nothing of serious note in this anecdote. Or is there? Human beings have relied on touch and feel for millennia. We navigated the dark for eons before given the assistance of artificial light. Now we can’t move outside our tents at night without stubbing our toes and flicking on our trusty headlamps. What’s next? Are we going to forget how to use our sense of touch through a lack of button is our society!?

Probably not.

There is, however, something visceral and human about touch. There is something primal about reaching out with your digits and engaging the world around us. Design can give us these experiences through new and exciting ways. Sure, it was novel when all the buttons on my phone disappeared and I could now swipe, pinch, flick and scroll my way around the digital world with ease, but I still can’t type an email on the thing without correcting at least two or three “fat-finger” typos per sentence.

My point is this: sleek, slick, and sexy is fine, but nothing can replace the way touch connects us to our experiences. Buildings should be open to touch. Technology should embrace touch. We should all find opportunities to touch!

Ok, before this post starts to get weird I’ll leave you with this quick thought, when you engage a space, look up, look around, close your eyes and grab the closest thing near you. Now let me go grab my 1 year old so he can help me navigate my Ipad.

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