Can I touch you online? Embodied, Empathic Intimate Experience of Shared Social Touch in Hybrid Connections

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

130 Downloads (Pure)


Experience of touching and feeling touched is fundamental to human well-being, of safety and trust. Being in touch with others can be emotional and spiritual, it enables space for movement and transformation: to touch, kiss, play, dance, make love, tune and breath together.

Until recently, research into Human Computer Interaction has focussed on the performative potential of technology and physiological aspects of social touch; and less on human experience. However, recent research shows that ethical aspects of vulnerability, inclusiveness, agency, autonomy, responsibility and response ability, and trust are core to human experience of technically mediated social touch. Recent neuroscience research focuses on mirror neuron activity in empathic processes through touch; on synaesthetic mirror-touch perception; and on body ownership perception in visuo-haptic motor data interaction.
Media Performance Art has started to explore digital systems for shared experience of sensory, intercorporal connections and emphatic spectatorship with human and non-human others, in various hybrid social and spatial configurations.

This thesis expands these emergent and fragmented foci in a new, interdisciplinary Art, HCI, Design and Neuro Science perspective, for distributed, hybrid, XR, online, human-agent and robot interaction.

The thesis shows the importance for new performance scripts, for orchestrating ‘Shared Social Touch’: Shared embodied intimate experience of technically mediated social touch, for multiple participants.
A first interaction model for orchestrating social touch: ‘Can I Touch You Online?’ (CITYO) is presented to this purpose. This novel interaction model has been tested internationally, in six participatory case-studies, Artistic Social Labs (ASL). These ASLs have made use of innovative A.I. Facial Technologies, Streaming platforms and Multi-Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI) in multi actor networks. They have been designed to facilitate a new sense of bodily togetherness between familiar and unfamiliar others, lovers, friends, family, and strangers.

The literature, and testing insights, show that performance scripts for Shared Social Touch experience rely on the design of a) Sensory Disruption (of physical touching and being touched, in reciprocal influence, and shared empathic vulnerable interplay) combined with b) Shared Reflection on the experience, through hosted dialogue.
The research method has been based on combined Artist Research and Research through Design.
The CITYO interaction model support these characteristics and present new perspectives for Art, Design, HCI and Science, and Education, on emotional well-being (including social connection, disconnection, and isolation (e.g. through trauma, dementia, depression); neurodiversity and autism) design of e-learning and presence design; in hybrid, A.I., XR, mixed and merging realities.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Brazier, F.M., Supervisor
Award date23 May 2023
Print ISBNs978-94-6419-818-8, 978-94-6419-817-1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Interactive Media Performance
  • Participatory Performance
  • Presence Design
  • Technically Mediated Social Touch
  • Shared Social Touch
  • Intimacy
  • Hybrid Connections
  • Meeting places
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Hosting


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