Ask anyone who's tried maintaining a long-distance relationship: it's hard, and video chats, text messages and phone calls don't always satisfy our emotional needs. A lot of human relations are indirect, subtle actions of body language or behavior that aren't easily captured in video or text. Capturing the feeling of these unspoken cues seems is the point of "Saying things that can't be said," two students' final project at the Holon Institute of Technology. The series uses a mix of technology and familiar objects to create an abstract sense of presence between two distant partners.
The project consists of three pieces, but none of them directly simulate touch. "I'm with you," for instance, is a pair of pineapple-shaped objects that "beat" with the pulse of the other user -- implying closeness, but not mimicking it. Another pair of devices allows one user to playfully blow on a pinwheel, prompting an object at their partner's end to shoot bubbles. A third display simulates "blowing a kiss" by having one user's breath remotely flap a paper butterfly's wings.
All of the objects are subtle, but beautifully made. They aren't enough to make you feel as if your loved ones are really present, but the echo of presence they imply may satisfy an emotional need that videos, text and images can't. At the very least, the abstract objects are an interesting idea -- and even its creators admit that something suggested can be more real that something simulated. "It was important to me not to try and reenact the feelings of touch, pressure and warmth we feel when we hug or a caress our loved one," Student Daniel Sher said of the project. "Trying to imitate that will always feel fake."