With a touch of technology

Gayle muses on the world-changing ability of technology as a new invention is launched making it possible to touch a chicken via the internet

In an increasingly technological world, there are machines that do almost everything for us. From Labour saving appliances like vacuum cleaners and washing machines that take the drudgery out of housework to cars, that whisk us from one destination to another far faster than we could ever travel by muscle power alone.

These innovations have transformed the way we live. In a recent TV programme about archive films showing England in the 1920s, an old woman who remembered the scenes - and people - filmed commented that she hardly knew anyone in her village now. No-one walked the streets any more; they all travelled in cars so there was not so much opportunity to meet and chat.

A recent survey showed that most parents have given up reading to their children at 12 years old. Well fair enough - they should be able to read for themselves by that age. And could you get them to listen to a bedtime story without actually tying them down??

But a friend of mine who teaches teenagers says it is already evident that television and the internet are hampering the development of social skills in young people. Too much time spent gazing at an interactive screen leaves us unprepared for face to face communication.

A new invention, unveiled in last week's newspapers, could completely bypass the inconvenience of actually having to spend time with other people .

Researchers are working on an internet enabled garment which will allow you to 'touch' another person long-distance from anywhere in the world. Sensations are beamed via a wireless internet connection from the sender, who touches an electronically sensitised doll, to the wearer of the garment.

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The system, unveiled at a technology conference in Montreal, has been tried out with chickens, which apparently loved it, but cats and dogs are more wary of being touched by invisible hands.

One of the researchers said: "For cats, it's a different story. They don't seem to like being touched at all." Anyone who owns a cat will know just how far from the truth this is. Being touched, stroked or groomed is one of the few things my cat gets excited about.

Dogs 'seem to want to see and hear their owner as well as being stroked' - and this may turn out to be true of humans too. What kind of cut-price intimacy is this, after all?

However, a friend of mine who has a low opinion of human nature and believes that we are probably not as intelligent in this respect as dogs or cats, immediately suggested that the device would have a bright future as an accessory to internet porn.

This may indeed be the true purpose of the invention, wrapped up in a family-friendly pretext.

And for anyone who was tempted to have an affair, wouldn't this be the perfect rationale? No messy involvement with office parties, misuse of official cars or disputed hotels. No actual physical contact with the illicit lover at all - so where could be the harm?

John Prescott could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had been able to get hold of such a garment - supersize, of course.

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