Distant love

Image by Jenia Filatova

The slogan of the popular British airline reads ‘generation easyJet’, referring to a generation of stateless, weekend travellers who fly more often than they drive cars. As a twenty-something European citizen who studied and lived abroad, I fully relate to the airline’s motto. And I’m assuming that there are others like me.. But more than anything, ‘generation easyJet’ (or Ryanair or any other charter airline), very accurately describes the lives of long-distance relationship couples.

When it comes to long distance relationships, technology has an opportunity to play a key role in securing their survival. For many, Skype’s ringtone has been the soundtrack of their romance. But today, the spectrum of apps and devices that could help distant lovers bridge the gap of their geographies has expanded, making Skype seem like an obsolete and melancholic memory.

Communication apps are implementing ‘romantic’ features to virtual conversations. Avocado for instance, allows couples to send each other kisses and hugs, but in order to send or receive messages the phone needs to be held against the heart or lips. Many conversation-based apps are helping users to communicate ‘love’ digitally,  but it seems that the biggest challenge to overcome is the absence of physical intimacy.

In attempting to create a virtual-touch, wearable technology is paving its way into the long-distance relationship tech business. Devices such as Ringly, a ring that connects to smartphones and vibrates or lights up every time a message is sent, or HEY, a bracelet that reproduces human squeezes and sends signals to the other person’s wearable (when the partner caresses their bracelet, the other person will feel it), are just some of the first attempts to bring the physical touch into digital communication.

The list of gadgets invented to facilitate the modernised experience of long-distance relationships is long, and not all the devices seem particularly convincing. Yet, there’s something intriguing in technology being used to recreate interpersonal human interactions. And while using Pillow Talk – a cushion with an interactive panel and a bracelet that pulse and sends the heartbeat to the partner’s pillow – won’t replace the sensation of sleeping next to a partner, it’s an interesting experiment that foresees a future where technology challenges what physical distance means.