Half a decade ago in Italy, design researchers in a project called Faraway also looked at long distance communication between loved ones who are physically distant, but emotionally close. The team explored what happens when gesture, expressions, heartbeat, breathing, alpha- and beta-rythm informnation are incorporated into long-distance communication. The idea was to increase the sense of presence of a loved person over distance – but indirectly.
Replicating heartbeats is not the only way to go. Seventy years ago, Walter Benjamin marveled at the capacity of the aura of an original art work to spur our imaginative engagement wth a situation. Or think how much the religions achieve with the use of icons as aids to devotion; if lumps of bronze help millons of people commune with a deity, surely we can enhance telepresence using other kinds of objects.
Think of photographs. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote about kissing the picture of one’s beloved. „When we kiss a photograph, we do not expect to conjour up a spectacular manifestation of the person in the picture represents – but the action is nonetheless satisfying“.
Evolutionary psychologists believe that magical ways of thinking may be hardwired into us, and cite as evidence the human capacity to invest inanimate objects with meaning…souvenirs, heirlooms, chldhood toys, objets d’art, dolls, totems, talsmans, and charms.