When Did Touch Become Non-tactile?

Random thoughts seem to hit me at the oddest of times, and the other morning was no different.

My husband’s alarm decided that it wasn’t doing a good enough job in getting my husband’s attention, so it decided to wake me up instead. Yes, this inanimate object has decision-making skills. Curse you, Siri. So, there I was groaning internally, barely able to function because I went to bed way too late, wondering when the hell my husband was going to turn off his alarm.

After a good solid minute of the disgusting attempt at serenade music—perhaps it was less, but I couldn’t tell—I rolled over to give him a good shove, only to discover that he wasn’t there. He must have been in the shower or in the lounge having his breakfast, but wherever he was, he left his rude phone on the bedside table.

Grunting with effort, I dragged myself across the bed and grabbed his phone, expecting to see the same type of thing that my phone does when an alarm goes off—swipe circles. Nope. It turns out that iPhones don’t work the same way Androids do. So, I activated the screen and touched the off button.

Then it hit me. When did touch become non-tactile?

As my own alarm went off and I rolled over to feel for the snooze button along the top of the speaker, my brain started to fixate on this non-tactile touch technology situation. Then my sleep was all over. The brain was going for it at a 100 miles per hour. Sleep was never going to come after that, but as you can see, my brain just won’t let this non-tactile touch thing go.

Touchscreens are everywhere, but they are non-tactile.

Touchscreens have been around for many years now. Majority of my personal devices are touchscreen: my phone, the tablet, the Kindle, the laptop… I even had a touchscreen desktop once (that didn’t survive the distance, so sadly needed to be replaced). I like my touchscreen technology, even if it does causes issues when you sneeze all over the Kindle.

Hint: Turn off the Kindle before you go to wipe your snot off or who knows where in your book you’ll end up.

But when I’m writing or editing, I rely on something that I can’t actually get from a touchscreen: tactile sensation.

I can’t type at speed on a touchscreen keyboard. I’ve tried many times, and it was a disaster. I rely on the little bumps on the F and J keys to tell me where my hands are meant to sit. The physical depression of a mechanical key tells me that I’ve actually hit that letter. For me, typing is a tactile experience.

I have the ability to type as fast as I can think—awesome skill to have when you’re a writer. It’s been over thirty years since I first learnt how to touch type on a typewriter (yes, I am that old), and my mad typing skills have come in handy in a big way over the years.

My PhD supervisors marveled at how I could go up to the observation floor in the telescope dome and set the acquisition cameras going for another run, along with all the added notes that we recorded in the files, with no lights on, blind to what was being inputted. They could hardly believe that I got it right every time. And when I was working as a database programmer, it was fun to freak the boss out—have a complete conversation with him, looking at him, while typing up notes into the computer with very few typos.

Give me the F and J keys and I’m all good.

BTW, I’m not the only one with this mad typing skill in my household. My husband has it too. It drives our children nuts, because we type so fast that they can’t see the passwords for the internet and other systems as we’re typing them in.

But we still need tactile!

Touchscreens are becoming more and more common, finding their ways into every aspect of our lives. Even modern stove-tops and ovens employ touchscreens—a bit of a pain when you have an oven mitt on—take off the mitt to turn off the stove, then put the mitt back on to move the pan. The TV has touch controls, as does the stereo. Hell, you can get touchscreen in your car.

All of these futuristic designs utilising touchscreen technology does make things look extremely elegant—and easier to clean. However, I’m wondering if we will eventually lose our refined sense of touch, simply because the word touch no longer implies tactile.

The problem with this concept of non-tactile touch is that we still have a need for tactile controls. Think about when you might be in the dark or unable to see. You need to be able to rely on tactile sensation so you know where those buttons or switches are. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’m banged my hand against the wall in a desperate attempt to find the light switch. I know where it should be located, but it can still take time to find it. As we move further away from mechanical buttons and switches in favour of touchscreen technologies, I think I’ll be living in darkness, simply because Siri hates my voice and won’t turn on the lights. (I swear Siri has it in for Cookie Monster and me.)

Okay, the random thought is over. My brain is willing to let this one go now.

P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter or Facebook.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2017

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