Virtuality of touch & smell

I read recently in Men’s Health about ‘cuddle parties’ – social networking events where you lie on the floor with a group of people and cuddle like puppies. The premise is that touch is a wonderful thing and if you spend the evening snuggling a group of like-minded folks, it might make you, and by default, the rest of the world, a happier, sunnier place.

Initially the article gave me the warm and fuzzies. Aren’t we humans so touchingly endearing sometimes? So silly and mixed-up and cute that we would actually pay for the privilege of non-sexual tactile gratification with a group of strangers.

On the Cuddle Party site, it says they serve cookies, milk and juice and you get to wear your PJs, making it seem more like a slumber party for adults, than the raging orgy I’d imagined. There is soft music playing in the background, talking on mattresses and cuddle ‘lifeguards’ to ensure no one gets out of hand.

In the rules section there are various provisos: no removing of PJs, no dry humping, and if someone gets aroused, they have to raise their hand and are taken out of the circle of trust by one of the lifeguards until the momentary urge passes.

I am surprised to read that arousal doesn’t happen as often as you would think, given the proximity of so many warm and willing bodies. Being a virtual onion however, I have to ask myself how this need to be tactile translates into the world of textual communication.

I have always contended that the brain overcompensates in online scenarios, so that touch and to a lesser degree sound, smell, and taste are not really important in the scheme of the virtual. It isn’t that the brain ignores these senses entirely; it just produces a default version of them–– a cross between fantasy and vague recollection–– like a cardboard placeholder.

I’m not an extremely touchy-feely person myself, but I have a strong sense of smell, which I’m quite attached to. It interlinks with memory on various complex and wonderful levels the way sight never does. Most people refer to sight as the true reliable sense, confusing it with reality, rather than perception, and therefore immutable truth.

The fallen by the wayside olfactory sense is all but forgotten: a sense used primarily by chefs, perfumers and poets. Am I paranoid for being worried that smell might eventually drop out of the big 5 line-up and become obsolete in humans 2.0?

We have already started producing youngsters with amazing visual perception and enhanced spatial capabilities, making them ideal to be pilots, gamers and soldiers. They take in, retain (and process) information at a startling rate; the data registering through their brain at amazing speeds. Will future hybrids even have a need for other senses? Better yet, will the brain bother to translate smell, touch or sound when we have evolved past the need.

The cyclops concept is a fascinating one, but I wonder if future generations with evolved sight and dormant senses will be missing out tactile events like cuddle parties.

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