Are all non-contact forces conservative

Will the digital age bring about a “non-contact society”?

The interpersonal interaction is increasingly being shifted to the disembodied virtual. Elisabeth von Thadden investigates the consequences of this development and examines the dialectic of the sense of touch, which seeks closeness and at the same time shuns its excess.

In almost every situation in our everyday life, it is our natural companion: when we warm ourselves tiredly at the coffee cup in the morning, quickly let our fingertips fly over the keyboard, shake hands and kiss cheeks, drive a car, handle cutlery and finally put on the covers to fall asleep spread us. We need and use the sense of touch permanently, but rarely think about how it works and how it works. Sight, hearing or taste are better explored than touch. The complexity of the sense of touch is probably only one possible explanation for this discrepancy between application and understanding.

Perhaps in our society, which shifts a lot of interaction into the disembodied digital, the direct contact is not valued enough, even viewed with suspicion? After all, we can chat and tinder in our large family-free apartments, simulate closeness and create distance at the same time. We no longer necessarily have to expose ourselves to the unreasonableness of our human counterparts. So do we live in a "non-contact society"?

We are not "snuggled up"

The journalist and non-fiction author Elisabeth von Thadden pursues this thesis, which has been put forward in some newspaper articles, in her book of the same name. The starting point of her considerations is the advertising poster of a woman showering, on which the author attaches the modern dilemma: The line between pleasant touch and cross-border injury is fine - #MeToo has revealed this many times over the past year.

First of all, the concept of physical integrity is an essential achievement of the Enlightenment, stated von Thadden. The realization that the body is vulnerable and therefore has to be protected from violence has not yet been fully followed by the insight that this also applies to damage to the soul.

In the further course of her book, von Thadden mixes different styles of documentation, goes from the history of ideas treatise to the minutes of the conversation, asks an expert for haptics and a masseuse. The former does not consider our present to be “snuggled”, even if certain needs for touch are evident, such as the increase in wellness massages, cuddle parties and fur-bearing pets. The masseuse, on the other hand, can confirm that closeness is not just a game of trust, but above all an existential confirmation that you are not alone in the world.

Touch as a risk

The different perspective approaches lead to differently fruitful results: Thoughts about the future of the care sector or collective housing are rather questioned and dealt with too little in-depth. By contrast, von Thadden's analytical excursions to recently published fiction are very enriching.

In particular, John Green's youth novel “Sleep well, your nasty thoughts” from 2017 has been extensively recognized as a successful contribution to understanding the longing for touch in the digital age. The fear of physical harm shapes our lives. We all want to be touched, but at the same time shy away from the risk of injury that can result from it. However, digital distance can create new possibilities for rapprochement.

Elisabeth von Thadden: The contactless society. Verlag C. H. Beck, Munich 2018. 205 S., Fr. 27.90.