MIT students have designed a 'wearable social media vest' that translates every virtual Facebook 'like' into a real hug.
Critics in a nutshell have dismissed this as a article of clothing that broadcasts the owner's craven need for approval, as well as suggesting his or her crushing failure to attract hugs from flesh-and-blood beings. Why does the world need this artificial snuggle-shell? Explains one of its creators, Melissa Chow:
‘Like-A-Hug is a wearable social media vest that allows for hugs to be given via Facebook, bringing us closer despite physical distance. The vest inflates when friends 'Like' a photo, video, or status update on the wearer's wall, thereby allowing us to feel the warmth, encouragement, support, or love that we feel when we receive hugs. Hugs can also be sent back to the original sender by squeezing the vest and deflating it.’
While the like-to-hug conversion might seem clear enough, they have yet to expand the vest's repertoire to encompass other Facebook functions. What, for example, would the "poke" feel like – or the dreaded "defriend"? How might being "followed" translate into a sinister over-the-shoulder presence, and what would be the physical consequence of being "shared"?
As Digital Trends has pointed out, this isn't the first product to offer physical contact through a digital medium. Back in April, robotics designer Hiroshi Ishiguro presented a body pillow that brings physical sensation to phone calls. The Hugvie translates the tone and volume of the person at the other end of the line into a simulated heartbeat within the squishy doll.
It's also not the first time the ubiquitous Facebook "like" has been implemented in clothing. In May, Brazilian fashion store C&A embedded a digital like-counter into its clothes hangers, tracking the most popular items from an image gallery on its Facebook page.
While the Like-A-Hug may be a provocative art project that questions our attachment to social media, the latter device could be a powerful commercial tool. But are these welcome innovations, bringing the crowd-sourced world of the internet to bear on physical reality, or ominous developments that let the likes of Mark Zuckerberg get too close to our bodily lives?
Photograph: Melissa Kit Chow/Rex Features