Machine Touch | 2316

We must try to cultivate a better sense of somatic awareness of the tools in our lives and give names to the things we discover.

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Machine Touch

One of the threads that weaves its way though my work and writing is the question β€˜How does software make you feel‘?

In episode 20-23 I excerpted part of the talk on that subject at Sonar+D in Barcelona back in 2019. 

I want you to ask yourself: How do you feel when you interact with a computational system? How does interacting with the tools you use in your daily life make you feel? Are you even paying close enough attention to even know? 

How does holding or using a kitchen knife make you feel? Or a coffee mug? or as I’ll ask shortly, your phone.

In my talk I said that chat apps, to me, feel sort of like tennis volleys. Strategy games like Civilization or Age of Empires have an algorithmic coldness. 

All tools make us feel certain things. Sometimes we only become aware of how they are making us feel after prolonged immersion or use. As a society we’ve recently invented a word to describe one of these feelings….

Doom Scrolling

Dictionary described as β€œthe act of spending an excessive amount of time reading large quantities of negative news online.” But this is insufficient. Doom Scrolling is something you feel. It’s an emotion that arises from inside of us after prolonged use of a certain technology.

In order to show us more adverts web2 social media platforms optimised for attention and dwell time . As it turns out, the side effect of doing so is a feeling reproducible across a broad population of users – doom. 

I said back in episode 20-40 that it’s urgent that we ‘develop a shared language for talking about how technology makes us feel’. Doom scrolling is just the first word.

We must try to cultivate a better sense of somatic awareness of the tools in our lives and give names to the things we discover. To borrow a term from Warhammer, we must develop Machine Touch.

I think back to how I’ve felt interacting with tools and technologies throughout my life. When I was young, I remember playing with the long wave radio in the car alone whilst waiting for my parents. Fogged out windows and the drum of rain on the car’s roof. I remember ever so slowly turning the dial, watching and hearing my action up on it cut though the radio spectrum. Two things still come to mind: The mechanical resistance of the potentiometer as I turned the knob, and the sound of the radio phasing away from the station as it lost the signal. What was once clear sound dissolved by my actions, into increasing static. 

This process felt like the slow motion drop of a boat deck out from underneath me. Not a sudden shock but a slow disappearing – the broadcast become, white noise. A cold travelled from the dial down my arm, across my chest, up my neck into my teeth. It static feels the way that ozone smells. As the dial creeps further around, rhythm becomes detectable amidst the white noise. Is it music or the regular cadence of someone speaking? I keep turning to find out. Over a long period we approach the new station, the cold ozone is replaced by a brown warmth. I can still find the sensation of ozone static in any white noise or sonic landscape

However mundane the object, playing close somatic attention to it can be an intense experience. 

Pick Up Your Phone

Pick up your phone right now. But don’t handle it in a way that wakes the screen. If you have your phone set to wake when you lift your phone please consider turning this off. I think it’s bad for you.


Pick up your phone with the screen off. Look at it, turn it around in your hands. It’s ja slab of dark glass that lives in your pocket. Do the smears and finger prints on the screen tell the story of just how many hours a day it interact with it?

How does the familiar weight of the phone make you feel? With the screen dark, look at your reflection in the screen – how does the fact you spend hours of your life looking past yourself make you feel? Can you recall the hours and hours of doom scrolling you’ve done on it? The hours of flicking though vertical video or scrolling social media – how does that make you feel? 

Reflect on the object and pay close attention to everything that is happening in your body. Now look at the screen and wake the phone. For me, the moment the lock screen appears I feel a slight thrill in my diaphragm. A wave of overpressure pulses out of the phone and passes through me. Not a warmth, but a ring of invisible force. It passes through my chest and out behind me. This is what I mean by machine touch. 

Let’s generate an AI image together. 

I begin typing a prompt, there’s a slight expectation, excitement. I listen to my body more carefully, a thickness begins in my chest, moves across both collarbones and down my arms as I type. A coldness flows across the tops of my shoulders via my neck up and the back of my head the moment I click generate. And now I wait. My body stills, my heart beats. The images appear and a sparking appears in my top lip and moves into my ears. 

Your mileage may vary, I’ve been meditating for 10 years and this is what I experience when I pay attention to the tools I use.

Try it for yourselves, pay close attention to your tools and tell me how they make you feel. 


The script above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the episode in the edit.

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