Like-A-Hug ‘wearable social media vest’ translates virtual Facebook ‘likes’ into real hugs

[From The Guardian’s Architecture and Design blog]

Like-A-Hug? The Facebook vest that gives you a hug from your friends

MIT students have designed a ‘wearable social media vest’ that translates every virtual Facebook ‘like’ into a real hug

Posted by Oliver Wainwright
9 October 2012

Ever wanted more from your social media? Is all that clicking and typing not quite hitting the spot? When the momentary excitement from that vibrating alert in your pocket fades, are you left empty, hollow, wanting more?

No, probably not. But if you did, then fret no longer, because some crafty MIT students have developed a wearable extension to your social media existence that translates every virtual Facebook “like” into an actual hug. They have turned that meagre pixelated thumbs-up into a full-body squeeze.

The Like-A-Hug project is a “wearable social media vest”, developed by Melissa Kit Chow in collaboration with Andy Payne and Phil Seaton, as part of the MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group.

The vest, which looks like a slinky black bodywarmer, is designed to inflate like a lifejacket when friends “like” a photo, video, or status update on the wearer’s Facebook wall, “thereby allowing us to feel the warmth, encouragement, support, or love that we feel when we receive hugs,” says Chow.

The project was developed as an exercise and exploration in tactile shape display, technology that allows the sense of touch to be experienced in virtual environments, pushing the possibilities of social media beyond the conventional graphic user interface.

“We came up with the concept over a casual conversation about long-distance relationships and the limitations of video chat interfaces like Skype,” explains Chow. “The concept of telepresence arose, and we toyed with the idea of receiving hugs via wireless technology.”

But hugs are of course a two-way thing, so the designers have developed a mechanism by which the hug can be sent back to the sender by squeezing the garment, deflating it in the process.

While the like-to-hug conversion might seem clear enough, they have yet to expand the vest’s repertoire to encompass other Facebook functions. What, for example, would the “poke” feel like – or the dreaded “defriend”? How might being “followed” translate into a sinister over-the-shoulder presence, and what would be the physical consequence of being “shared”?

As Digital Trends has pointed out, this isn’t the first product to offer physical contact through a digital medium. Back in April, robotics designer Hiroshi Ishiguro presented a body pillow that brings physical sensation to phone calls. The Hugvie translates the tone and volume of the person at the other end of the line into a simulated heartbeat within the squishy doll.

It’s also not the first time the ubiquitous Facebook “like” has been implemented in clothing. In May, Brazilian fashion store C&A embedded a digital like-counter into its clothes hangers, tracking the most popular items from an image gallery on its Facebook page.

While the Like-A-Hug may be a provocative art project that questions our attachment to social media, the latter device could be a powerful commercial tool. But are these welcome innovations, bringing the crowd-sourced world of the internet to bear on physical reality, or ominous developments that let the likes of Mark Zuckerberg get too close to our bodily lives?


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