143. The Nightmares and Dreamscapes of Digital Touch

Stephen Hughes, Science and Technology Studies, University College London; Danielle Shanley, Maastricht University;

This panel explores the fantasies, dreams, utopias, and dystopias that are conjured in the development of emerging digital touch technologies. VR, AR, XR, and novel stimulation methods imagine and order the relationships between touch, human bodies, and technology. We are interested in exploring their utopic and dystopic registers, from fantasies of touchless haptic experiences to conspiracies about militarised virtualisation of the natural world. Our panel seeks to examine how digital touch affects human bodies and the social relationships that they inhabit. We seek to question engineers' attempts to abstract and quantify touch, asking what happens when physical sensations are emptied of their relational, practical, social, and historical meanings. We want to explore the conflicts and uncertainties brought about by new digital touch technologies - tensions between distance and proximity, violation and consent, pleasure and pain, and hype and conspiracy. We want to subject fantasies of digital touch to some reality-testing, asking: what anxieties and desires underpin them? who stands to benefit from them? who will take on the burden? whose bodies are on the line? and, importantly, what do technologies like this do for us as critical STS researchers? We welcome theoretical, empirical, or arts-based, work which explores haptics, digital touch, the metaverse, or VR/AR/XR technologies. Contributions might address the issues raised above, or: • Touchless imaginaries, fantasies, utopias or dystopias • The co-production of comfort, discomfort, pleasure, and pain in digital touch • Can touch be rational? • Is the metaverse bullshit?

Contact: stephen.hughes@ucl.ac.uk, danielle.shanley@maastrichtuniversity.nl

Keywords: Information, Computing and Media Technology, Haptics, touchless technologies, VR, metaverse, conspiracy theories, hype, emerging technologies

Published: 04/07/2023