Voices Thursday, October 09, 2014 - 05:30
Amit Bararia | The News Minute | October 9, 2014 | 12.01 pm IST We have seen an exponential growth of touch screen devices like pods, pads and phones over the last few years. The single most important driver of this growth is, very simply, the touch itself. When one touches and strokes something, a certain bond is established which is inevitably the beginning of an emotional attachment. Researchers have established that people handicapped in adapting to technology were able to break the learning barrier and quickly adapted to the ways of touch devices. It was also demonstrated that buyers using a touch screen device to browse for products were more likely to make a purchase than those using the click-mouse, suggesting that touch devices give similar levels of satisfaction as touching an item in a store. So where to with all this touching? Touching or being touched creates friction. If the touch is ‘silken’, it’s still a measure of ‘friction’. Friction gives pleasure, and it gives pain. In a manner, ‘touch’ is a primal ‘sense’, a fundamental interface via which an entity builds relationships with the world both outside the self and within. The centrality of the body, the ‘physicality’ of touching, these lie at the heart of the matter: As it goes through its routine of living, the body acts as a receptacle into which the collective experience of all its senses are deposited, thus creating an amalgam of an intricately indexed reference pool of ‘feelings’ or ‘memories’. This pool starts as a personal and individualised heritage or culture, but is itself influenced, and in turn influences the wider society and its heritage and culture. The learning, the wisdom, the arts and sciences of the individual and the collective are thus interlinked. No matter how one is touched or touches, the referenced sensation is always the verb ‘to feel’. ‘Feeling’ is everything. Another aspect of this line of thought takes us out of the ambit of the hand: Someone’s touched by a poem; another is touched by a glance. Possibly another is touched by ecstasy or anxiety both of which are essentially emotional states, yet all of these refer back to the pool of trigger mechanisms set up by ‘feelings’ the individual or collective have known before. A touch as a verb creates feeling and sensation. A touch as a metaphor conjures memory and emotion. But alas, nothing can ever be simplified and fortunately there is no absolute truth. There’s always more to things than meets the eye, or hands, if you like. Regardless of what one touches or feels, assumptions can be very very fragile. Perception and observation can turn into wily traps if one is not careful: For in all this, we are going to have to also deal with fallacy and subjectivity.  To do this we’ll call upon the delightful story of the blind men and the elephant. This is a quote taken from an extremely well formed analysis of the story at Wikipedia: “the parable implies that one's subjective experience can be true, but that such experience is inherently limited by its failure to account for other truths or a totality of truth. At various times the parable has provided insight into the relativism, opaqueness or inexpressible nature of truth, the behaviour of experts in fields where there is a deficit or inaccessibility of information, the need for communication, and respect for different perspectives”. Most people are familiar with the story, but for the sheer pleasure of it, please read on the poem below.   The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) It was six men of IndostanTo learning much inclined,Who went to see the Elephant(Though all of them were blind),That each by observationMight satisfy his mind. The First approached the Elephant,And happening to fallAgainst his broad and sturdy side,At once began to bawl:"God bless me! but the ElephantIs very like a WALL!" The Second, feeling of the tusk,Cried, "Ho, what have we here,So very round and smooth and sharp?To me 'tis mighty clearThis wonder of an ElephantIs very like a SPEAR!" The Third approached the animal,And happening to takeThe squirming trunk within his hands,Thus boldly up and spake:"I see," quoth he, "the ElephantIs very like a SNAKE!" The Fourth reached out an eager hand,And feltabout the knee"What most this wondrous beast is likeIs mighty plain," quoth he:"'Tis clear enough the ElephantIs very like a TREE!" The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,Said: "E'en the blindest manCan tell what this resembles most;Deny the fact who can,This marvel of an ElephantIs very like a FAN!" The Sixth no sooner had begunAbout the beast to grope,Than seizing on the swinging tailThat fell within his scope,"I see," quoth he, "the ElephantIs very like a ROPE!" And so these men of IndostanDisputed loud and long,Each in his own opinionExceeding stiff and strong,Though each was partly in the right,And all were in the wrong! So finally to tie all this touch and feel together, one will now touch upon a matter which triggered all the thoughts above: In recent times, a particular television commercial has drawn one’s attention. It is slickly made, having been conceived and created by one of the smartest ad agencies in India. One cannot tell how effective this campaign is going to be and this is not one’s concern really. We live in a time where it’s vital to sell an idea before selling a product. The idea is the sales pitch and without the sales pitch there is no sale. The successful seller has to make the merchandise exciting and convince buyers that it is something they need to buy. Whilst Prime Minister Modi begins his crusade for a Swachh Bharat to highlight issues of sanitation and toilets for the poor of the country, and politicians break into scuffles over toilets and temples, Kohler, a sanitary ware and plumbing-products company has lately been selling its idea of hygiene and cleanliness. The theme of the sales pitch is, “Hands Are Made For Love”: This is what an advertising specialist wrote about the commercial: In keeping with its vision to offer 'Gracious Living' to its consumers, Kohler has taken a new route of communication for its range of bidet seats – Pure Clean. Instead of going the utilitarian route, the company is promoting the concept of going hands-free with its new campaign themed "Hands are made for Love". With the use of beautiful imagery, the TVC explains the utility and insight behind the launch of Pure Clean and encourages consumers to go hands free with the product. Well, different people have different ideas about what hands are made for, and that’s fair enough. From the potter to the boxer, whatever comes easy to them, there are those who get going with their hands, and there are those who prefer to keep the gloves on for the sake of gracious living. What is ‘natural’ becomes habit and habit becomes ‘cultural’. But if they could have us believe them, the folks over at the creative department of the ad campaign are very certain of what hands are NOT made for. On the subject of culture, growing up, who amongst us has not been admonished by a parent thus: “don’t touch your food with that left hand”. And culture is not just a definition of the facts of how a society uses its hands, but it’s also about what it ‘feels’ comfortable discussing and what it prefers to keep out of public discourse. In family rooms we can watch ‘pseudoerotic’ advertisements of male contraceptives and underwear without squirming too much. We can talk viagra, and if pushed, even g-spot orgasms. But no sir, what our hands do, that is very personal stuff. Now then, Messrs Kohler, there are hands and there are hands and they do what they do. But it now stands revealed what hands are really made for. And that really is the end of innocence.

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