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     Volume 11 |Issue 40| October 12, 2012 |


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When a Hug is Almost Real

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has come up with a 'Like a Hug' vest for Facebook users who can now hug each other from miles away and actually feel it. All they have to do is 'like' a post of their Facebook friend and a hug will be duly delivered. Melissa Chow, one of the designers of this amazing jacket, said that she and her co-team members wanted to recreate the fuzzy, warm feeling we get when someone hugs us. Obviously she didn't mean stalkers and depraved individuals who may abuse this hugging vest and make many lives a living hell.

But let's not be so cynical. The best part of this sickly-sweet phenomenon is that hugs can also be sent to the sender (who must also be wearing the vest) by squeezing the vest and deflating it.

Many non-Facebookers will be laughing their heads off at what they term 'a pathetic attempt to simulate the real thing', finding in this validation for their long-held theory that social networks can never fulfil the pure pleasure of face-to-face interaction, not to mention real hugs from a real person.

They may have a point there but as Chow realised during a casual conversation with her friends (face- to-face, one assumes) when it came to long-distance relationships, even the non-romantic ones, sometimes you just have to make the best of what you have. Skype and other kinds of video chats have allowed people to see each other while they talk on the phone - making it quite a challenge for those with limited or poor wardrobes; and now you can also display your physical affection through the 'like a hug' jacket.

It all goes to show the value of a 'hug'. In the real world a hug is a great connector, a bridge to bring the most bitter of enemies together, a way to say hello in the most endearing way, a picker upper in the darkest hour and a source of illogical amounts of joy when it's from the right person.

The rules of who you can and cannot hug are a little hazy, especially when you live in a society where displays of physical affection are frowned upon between grown ups if they are of the opposite sex. Grandparents and parents, of course, are exempted from this rule and can receive any number of hugs from their children and grandchildren.

In social occasions the dilemma involving hugging can cause quite a lot of anxiety for the incorrigible hugger. You know you can hug your friend who is of the same sex. But can you hug the spouse? Some men and women just do not like their significant others to have such close contact with members of the opposite sex, no matter who they are but the hugger may not always know this and hence will be bewildered by the sudden cold wave in the room.

Then there is always the possibility that a hug can go haywire. You can, for instance, get all the movements wrong - a bit like stepping on your partner's toes while waltzing. If you intend to hug and kiss someone on both cheeks and she wishes to reciprocate, but if both of you move in the same direction, it may lead to an extremely awkward moment that can be made worse if you end up in a head to head collision. You may laugh it off as much as you like but that terrible moment when you kissed your friend on the mouth without intending to will be etched into your memory for life.

Every now and then adults may get a good dose of reality regarding their likeability by hugging a reticent teenager (males especially if you are an aunty) who will visibly cringe then stiffen as he bears the torture. Yes, it is awkward enough the first time, but when you keep doing it for the next few encounters with the same responses, know that the hug has severely misfired and it is time to stop.

So while the non-Facebookers may snigger at the 'Like-a-Hug' vest, they should think of the abovementioned scenarios when a real hug becomes too real and the idea of a jacket squeezing you doesn't seem so silly anymore.

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