It happens to so many people in life: you meet someone, you quickly hit it off, and you start dating. But life gets in the way, and a new job crops up, or the vacation ends or the school year starts, and your romance is faced with the dilemma of ending or taking it “the distance”… long distance.
College students are particularly fond of long distance. In fact, almost 75 percent of college students are (or have been) in a long distance relationship, myself included. I met a girl mere months before she graduated, and because things went so well, we decided to give long distance a shot. So far, so good.
But with her in South Carolina and me in Massachusetts, communication is difficult. Sure, there’s texting and FaceTime, as well as a number of apps such as Couple and Avocado, but reading texts or seeing her on a screen just isn’t the same as being with her in person.
Modern technology has a “fix” for that – quite a few, actually. Most recently, the company Little Riot has begun a Kickstarter campaign for a product called Pillow Talk. It’s a concept that went video-viral five years ago but failed to obtain proper funding or manufacturing partners. Until now.
Pillow Talk consists of a wearable wristband that detects a user’s heartbeat and a speaker that can be placed under a paired user’s pillow. The goal is to bring long distance couples closer together than a screen ever will.
It sounds like a sweet idea. But an appealing one? Not for everyone.
“I don’t want to hear someone’s heartbeat when I’m with them,” one student told me. “I’m not a nurse. Why would I want to feel it when they’re a million miles away?”
This same student said she’d rather just hear the person talking through the speaker, whispering in your ear. Also known as a phone call…
There are other technologies,that aim to bring couples closer when they’re apart.
One is called Magnet, a wristband that lights up and vibrates when the other taps it. The devices are sensitive enough for couples to create their own type of Morse code, according to co-founder Alexander List. The device looks like a hacked up watch.
I asked my girlfriend about Magnet, which launched a Kickstarter in 2014 and was selling for $190. Again,she thought it was a nice idea, but ultimately intrusive to everyday life.
“If I’m at work, I don’t want to be distracted by vibrations and lights,” she said. My girlfriend is a teacher, and she said her students would be freaking out if her wrist suddenly started lighting up.
HeadTalk, the company that produced Magnet, has ceased production of the product to focus on “an exciting new project,” which appears to have something to do with telepathy. There are other products like Magnet still out there, though, such as TapTap.
There’s also LovePalz that for years has been selling products to help couples stay intimate – like, really intimate – no matter how far they are from one another. They sell “interactive” internet-connected erotic toys. Every person I talked to about this concept – simulated coitus by inanimate proxy – laughed, cringed or did some combination of the two. It seems like something out of an uncomfortable B-grade science fiction moviebut it is in fact a real product.
My girlfriend shot down any possibility of ever trying it out. I didn’t protest.
A student I talked to about some of these technologies said that they felt excessive and extraneous.
“I feel like texting and FaceTime are enough for a relationship,” he said. He’s a sophomore in college and has been dating his high school girlfriend for four years.
My girlfriend and I feel the same way. We talk every day on FaceTime, and try to see each other approximately once a month. These products seem strange, trying to achieve the impossible by simulating a personal connection. Ironically, the more they try to simulate reality, the further it feels from it. Technology has already gotten us pretty close, but should probably accept the fact that it will never be the same as holding a real hand or feeling an actual heartbeat. And that’s fine – when you love someone, you’re not actually looking to replace them.
Patrick Hoff is a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who has spent the last three years writing and editing at his college newspaper, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian. He has written for a number of publications, including Jyrno and The Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts, as well as writing for the blog at the Institute for Community Inclusion.
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