Imaginations of Remote Personal Touch Communication
Carey Jewitt

We are at a tipping point for digital touch communication: moving beyond ‘ways of seeing’ to include ‘ways of feeling’. Much as optical technologies (from the telescope and microscope to Google Glass) have transformed sight and how the visual features in our communicative practices, the rapid expansion in digital touch technologies is set to reconfigure touch and the tactile in significant ways. The centrality of touch to both human experience and communication underpins the need to understand the social consequences of how touch is digitally remediated. This talk will illustrate how social science research can draw on rapid prototyping and speculative design methods to explore people’s present and future imaginations of personal remote digital touch communication. Drawing on prototypes made in a series of rapid prototyping workshops on remote personal touch communication – from haptic chairs to tactile emotion tracking, I will discuss the key social themes that infused participants’ imaginations of digital touch. I will also ask how speculative scenarios can be used to further investigate how touching at a distance might transform our tactile experiences of personal remote communication, our communicative practices and norms.

Carey Jewitt is Professor of Learning and Technology and Director of UCL Knowledge Lab, University College London. Her research focuses on technology-mediated interaction. She leads the IN-TOUCH: Digital touch communication project ( and has led several large projects on methodological innovation across social science and the arts. Jewitt is a founding editor of the journal Visual Communication. Recent publications include Introducing Multimodality (2016) and The Routledge Handbook of Multimodal Analysis (2014).