In this video essay, Alisha Anderson meditates on our sense of touch. What is lost, she asks, when we do not live “edge to edge”?
This began with wonder.
I remember my head leaning back into the sunlit chair, a book about senses weighing on my lap, the chirp of chickadees coming to my ear, my eyes staring at backlit clouds spreading into blue, as I exhaled: How can all this be nerve impulses? Electricity firing through my body?
Yet, it is. That is what the texts told me: an exterior stimulus transduces to an interior signal. Thus the external becomes internal. Thus the world is realized. As I read, I began to see skin as a bridge, not a barrier. And this phrase kept resounding: contact begets context.
Wonder turned to wondering.
What if my contact with the world diminishes? What if technology increasingly occupies my senses? I read more. Researchers found that when hands touch a screen, they apply eight times the force they would to a normal surface, the reason being that the screen lacks feedback—for our minds use sensory input to guide our motor output. Without immediate response, we struggle to gauge our effect.
Wonder turned to worry.
I began to sense the distance technology brings. A distancing that began with stones—one of humankind’s first tools—and continues with screens. For they extend our reach, but not our touch. And such tools, many philosophers warn, can create a mindset. A mindset that casts everything around us as a resource to be used. So I read more. I found studies that show how tactile experience changes our brain. I began to hope. Might touch reset a mindset? Can it turn a resource back into a wonder?
Worry turned to intent.
I remember walking, bag on shoulder, hands outstretched, fingers skimming the yellow rabbitbrush flowing by, and sounds pulling my head: left, the jays; above, the velvet beat of a raven’s wing. I remember the trail scaling the ridge, my breath deepening, my feet finding a slope of stones, each step teetering with the shift of shale.
I remember stopping, bending—elbows on knees—and staring at sunlit stones. I remember reaching for one, rolling it in my hands, my fingers tracing its horizon, its warmth transferring to my skin. I remember my hands questioning another, then another; a pile growing; the bag filling. And I remember descending, shoulders now taut from a bag heavy with stones.