There’s no shortage of recent nonfiction works lamenting that our obsession with digital devices could turn our world into one where most human connection is a distant memory. For all the science proferred to support that thesis, leave it to a work of fiction—Courtney Maum’s razor-sharp Touch—to bring this vexing issue into focus with compassion and wit.
Sloane Jacobsen is a brilliant trend forecaster who’s been hired by consumer electronics company Mammoth (think Apple meets Amazon) to help develop a line of products aimed at childless couples. Instead of stimulating Sloane’s predictive gift, that assignment brings to light the state of her rapidly cooling domestic relationship with Roman Bellard, a self-styled public intellectual who’s taken to wearing a bizarre full-body outfit that makes Sloane think of him as a “Lycra-suited zombie.” It doesn’t help that Sloane’s vision of a world in which “touch could come back to people’s lives” clashes with Roman’s enthusiasm for a virtual “post-sexual world,” a pronouncement that goes viral with the publication of a New York Times op-ed.
Maum deftly manipulates this tantalizing setup to raise provocative questions about why so many of us seem to be happier tapping and swiping than we are in encounters with real human beings and what it might take to change that behavior. It’s premature to predict whether our world will evolve toward more intimate interactions or greater absorption with our ever more sophisticated smart phones and tablets. Whatever may happen, Touch provides an entertaining frame for what will continue to be a lively debate.