‘Internet of Bodies’ Will Take Intimacy Beyond the Physical World

Ghislaine Boddington on enhancing love and passion with human-machine interfaces.

B0131P 0137

Every day, we send and receive a wealth of digital information through our bodies. We obsessively touch our phone screens and are rewarded with a constant stream of data, audio, and video content. Facial expressions and fingerprints serve to identify us; fitness bands track our movements, our heart rate, and how many hours of sleep we had last night.

But take that a step further and imagine having tiny implants which connect your internal responses, not only to machines, but plug in directly to the sensations of other people. It would, quite literally, take the concept of intimacy to a whole new level, creating a so-called “Internet of Bodies”—an evocative phrase coined by body technologist Ghislaine Boddington several years ago.

“I’ve been working with ‘body technologies’ since the late 80s. Things like motion capture, robotics, wearables, virtual world, and avatars,” she tells me. “I’m particularly interested in exploring how technology can develop to complement us rather than being just a set of gizmos. I see a convergence over the next 10-15 years between technologies of the body and our emotional selves which are going to give us much deeper experiences and a more enhanced scenario for love, passion, joy, and intimacy.”

Boddington, who is Co-founder and Creative Director of design unit body>data>space, has been exploring the relationship between our “living, sweating bodies” and technology for over 20 years. This fascination comes in part from her background in dance and the performing arts, which gave her a deeper understanding of how crucial the concept of “live presence” is to communication. This year she is brought that expertise to bear in curating the Future Love programme theme at FutureFest, a festival of future ideas organized by innovation charity Nesta.

One of the themes she explored during the September event was “hyper-enhanced sensuality” and how we can create a sense of deeper attachment that to help us reach new levels of joy and passion. This concept of “tele-intimacy” places our bodies at the centre of digital interactions, with content woven into experiences to create symbiotic relationships between the virtual and the physical, between our “real” and our projected, online selves.

Mixed realities

Virtual reality is, of course, part of that picture. It holds the paradoxical promise of lifelike experiences without the need for actual physical presence, which can be physically isolating, especially given the type of content that is currently predominant in the medium.

The key, therefore, lies in producing alternative types of content that tackle issues around negative and objectified representations of women, moving away from violence and repression and toward more positive attitudes, such as embracing gender fluidity that recognizes the diversity of viewpoints and the variety of ways in which people perceive themselves, relate to others, and experiment with their identities.

At the moment, instead of showcasing this broad range of possibilities, most adult VR content follows the well-established formula of male-centered pornography. In itself that is not a problem, but the broader picture is so much more interesting than that:

“We’re looking at things around skin, touch. All these ‘caress’ technologies. And also things like biofeedback related to your gaze, breath, muscle movement… These will all converge and link into virtual worlds and maybe with things like holograms so that we can meet with each other and be intimate whether we’re in the same room or at a distance. One of the problems with VR is that it can be physically isolating. What we’re really need to get to is a real digital skin-on-skin scenario and look at what gaze does to you, what eye contact there is, and how do you reach passion, joy, and intimacy in these areas.”

These technologies will enable us to augment our existence and enhance our sensuality in ways that are probably hard to imagine at this point. But Boddington paints a fascinating picture of a world where bodies will become digital interaction canvases; and if that doesn’t get you turned on about technology, I don’t know what will.

Republished with permission from Alice Bonasio

Image sources: FutureFest