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These Quirky Interactive Objects Help Loved Ones Stay in “Touch”

Sometimes Skype just doesn’t cut it.

In many ways, tools like Skype have made long-distance communication easier than ever before. Still, survivors of long-distance relationships can attest to Skype fatigue–the distinct feeling that something vital is missing from a conversation across a screen. But what if you could send a “kiss” from across an ocean? What about a wave of bubbles instead?

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In order to restore some of the richness and complexity lost over a phone or a computer, interaction design students Daniel Sher and Ben Hagin created a playful line of objects that aim to help communicate non-verbal affection. Their “love letters” include a paper butterfly that beats its wings when activated remotely, a stream of bubbles, and a heartbeat you can hold in your hand.

Sher, who just wrapped up her final year at Israel’s Holon Institute of Technology, says that she was first inspired to create the series after a week-long workshop designing objects for children in a cancer ward. She was particularly impacted by one mother’s account of what it was like to take care of her sick child and remain strong for her other children. “What we found most heart-breaking was the feeling of separation that mother, and indeed, the whole family was going through,” Sher writes by email. “I specifically remember her writing about not being able to hug her two other little girls, since she was away so long and was exhausted when she did return home.”

That’s why, unlike other long-distance communication tools, Sher and Hagin’s “love letters” aren’t just meant for intimate relationships. They could be used by families spread out over various continents or friends. And just as each object expresses a kind of affection, it also requires a small, human gesture to operate. The butterfly, for example, only flaps its wings when someone on the other end blows softly into a small microphone that transmits the signal. The pinwheel functions similarly, and the heartbeat object beats in the receiver’s hands when the giver presses it to his or her chest.

“The specific gestures I chose were inspired by acts we do perform in our real life, such as holding something dear close to our heart, and blowing on dandelions,” Sher writes. “Those gestures might be small, but I feel they hold a lot of meaning.”

Sher and Hagin don’t have plans to try and commercialize their love letters–Sher notes that the designs might not be suitable for mass production.

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.

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