When We Touch

I’m still thinking about Schwern’s post and the following line:

Touch is powerful, but complicated and we usually don’t employ it

The first part I agree with, touch is indeed powerful. I agree less with the second part, as touch is not always complicated. It’s the third part that surprises me. We use touch all the time when we communicate face-to-face. How often we touch and what is considered appropriate touching is cultural.

A few examples. People may touch when they meet. In the West we shake hands, hug or kiss. People touch at the end of conversations – again they may shake hands or maybe pat each other on the back. People touch during conversations by lightly touching someone’s arm or leg.

As I said the degree of permissible touching depends on where you came from. It was really funny for me to watch Marty’s Dad touch an elderly Japanese man on the train. Marty’s Dad was thanking the man for moving over and giving him a seat. He touched the man without even thinking about it. The Japanese man looked as if someone had just groped him. So there is no doubt that what touching means is open to debate but it still happens all the time.

My Japanese friends have been shocked when I have told them that I have been kissed on the cheek in the office by a business associate. For them that seems overly sexual. To me it’s just a greeting from a colleague and completely sexless.

I was wondering if Schwern was writing about touching in a specific context – that of geeks communicating with geeks. But that still doesn’t make sense to me. I am considered by many to be a geek and Schwern touches me when we chat face-to-face. So maybe it’s just another one of the things we do during face-to-face communication that we aren’t quite aware of. But we shouldn’t discount it, as touch is something that helps us connect with the people we are talking to in a way that can’t easily be replicated when communicating remotely.

2 Responses to “When We Touch”

  1. Schwern Says:

    I didn’t mean to be dismissive of touch. I’m playing the role of teaching by keeping one chapter ahead of the class, and I haven’t put much thought into touch yet. Not enough so I feel comfortable teaching it. There’s a lot of ways it can go wrong.

    I’m glad you’re picking up on the ideas I leave on the floor. You can teach the “advanced topics” class. :)

    You’re not the only person to catch my blow off of face-to-face. My friend Alex pointed out that face-to-face is attention grabbing, you can’t ignore someone when they’re physically present.

  2. karen Says:

    I’ve never thought about trying to teach people how to use touch to aid communication. Sounds like that would be a very difficult thing to do.

    I have many other blog posts in draft that pick up points on your blog. I must get round to finishing them – I put a hold on this the other night as I didn’t want my blog to read like a “pick on Schwern blog”. But I do realise that you are happy for people to argue about the things you post.

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