There’s no longer a need to touch many things these days. With the Internet of Things, many daily processes in our lives are activated by remote control. Some processes are activated by a timer. Other processes like the lights, water faucets and toilets in many public washrooms are activated by our proximity to sensors. Yet, in spite of the fact that so much goes on around us these days without our tactile participation, it is reassuring to know that some things in our everyday lives still require contact from our fingers. For example, touch screens in our cell phones. Touch screens are not organic surfaces and do not allow for physically making and receiving organic imprints. But at least there is some touch involved, an experiential reminder that we still live in a physical world. At least there are some physical anchors we can count on to cling to as floating figures in the experiential vacuum of modern technological society. Right?
Wrong. Yasuaki Monnai, the head of a research group at the University of Tokyo has created a touch screen that one doesn’t actually touch. It is a holographic touch screen. Now actually this has been done before. Others had been able to project a holographic touch screen onto any surface. What makes Monnai’s invention so different is that, through the creation of ultrasonic vibrations, one can actually feel the touch screen. In effect, one is given the tactile illusion that one is actually using a material touch screen. This definitely makes the holographic touch screen more user-friendly.
But what benefits, according to Monnai, can accrue from using a holographic touch screen in the first place? One advantage is that it can be used even when a person’s hands are wet or greasy. Furthermore, the user does not have to worry about coming into contact with germs.
Now I have never seen anyone who had an urgent need to use his smartphone whose hands were wet and/or greasy. If you get a call and your hands are wet or greasy, you can dry your hands or wash your hands and call the person right back. As to germs, are we all going to end up living in a perfectly antiseptic world? What Monnai seems to be implying is that the only surface that we can touch without getting infected is air.
This Haptic holographic display, as it is called, is simply creating one more layer of vacuumization for modern human life. Imagine if we found a way of transforming all the phenomena with which humans have to deal, so that they would exist just in thin air without any substance, without any material essence. We would never again have to worry about what was on our hands. We would never again have to worry about contagion from germs through touch. And at the same time, through Monnai’s invention, we could create the sensation of touching, while we were making contact with thin air. Would this constitute actually being alive in the external world? Although we would experience the sensation of touching, it wouldn’t really be touching some phenomenon with mass and matter. We wouldn’t be making, preserving or receiving organic imprints on the experiential surfaces that we were supposedly touching. And sustained contact with air surfaces could lead us to becoming overstimulated by physical contact with material surfaces. It could, by extension, contribute to overstimulation with regard to real social connections with the material entities that we call other people. We would be living in our own very private sensory bubble, our own very private world.
So the question arises as to whether it is really necessary to create and deal with these interactive holograms. For those who would make them a part of everyday life, there is a deeper reason for using them than concerns about wet hands, greasy hands or germs. Interactive holograms allow humans one more degree of separation from and transcendence above the perishability of more natural material living environments. The more we become separated by technology from the organic perishability of more natural material living environments, the more we become afraid of and intolerant of what little organic perishability remains in our modern technological living environments and of the organic perishability within ourselves. And the more we feel a need to separate ourselves from these small remnants of natural material living environments and from our own organic selves.
Of course, it is one thing to separate from the organic stimuli of nature through surrounding oneself with the modern technological environments we have had up until now. Yes, we have had an experiential vacuum as the base of our typical field of experience in modern technological society, but we have also had clusters of free-floating material figures. In the material world, this means solid substantive figures, phenomena which we can actually touch without having to artificially supply the sensation of touch. What if we decide that to avoid catching illnesses through germs, we would be better off turning more and more of the phenomena with which we interact into holograms, into vacuumized figures, and then find a way of artificially supplying the sense of touch to our contact with these other holographic phenomena. In such a field of experience, we would be making only the most tenuous contact with the external world. To the extent that we were only artificially supplied with the experiences of sensation, we would really mostly be living from inside of ourselves. Our inner world and our outer world would blur together, and after a while, we could never be sure if we were dreaming what we were living. Life would become a living death which we could never escape. In such a purified holographic world, where all the figure phenomena with which we came into contact would lack solidity and substance, not only would we have decreasing opportunities for making, preserving and receiving organic imprints, for having rich vibrant life experiences and for preparing for death with a surrogate immortality, but gradually we would lose our full human consciousness which gives us our awareness of the potential richness of life and our awareness of our mortality. In a perpetual dream mentality, there are no firm boundaries of life. It is a flowing mental grounding that doesn’t correspond to the realities of our finite limitations in the external world. It doesn’t stimulate us to participate in those experiences and those events that act as highlights of a meaningful purposeful life.
Yes, the need for a holographic touch screen represents something deeper than simply concerns about the condition of one’s hands or one’s hygiene. Creating a purified vacuum state of experience puts us in an experiential state with no boundaries, an experiential state without beginning or end. It is an experiential state that seduces us into thinking we are living free of organic perishability, free from rot, decay and death, in a state of immortality. Except that like the hologram, it is a kind of illusion. We may not be directly experiencing organic perishability around us, but it is still going on inside of us. We are still organisms that are going to perish one day. But by deluding ourselves into thinking we are living in a kind of eternity in a world filled with interactive holograms, we will not be motivated to create a surrogate immortality of preserved organic imprints that can help us to prepare for death in a more realistic way.
Interactive holograms will only prevent humans from properly confronting their finite existential realities in life. They will prevent people from having a rich vibrant life filled with organic imprints and a death that has been prepared for with preserved organic imprints. Interactive holograms are a potentially dangerous aspect of the new technological realities of our time.
(c) 2014 Laurence Mesirow