We present the design of a haptic computer accessory that adds the experience of touch to online conversations. It enables dyads to exchange the physical experience of holding hands regardless of distance and location. Text, speech and video communication systems support the transmission of several nonverbal affective aspects of communication but not the impression of physical proximity which is essential to experience a more intimate conversation. In real life touching hands is an important empathic experience for dyads that elicits a strong sense of togetherness, while signaling trust, understanding and social support. We analyzed hand-holding behavior of parent-child dyads and classified these into five categories implemented by the device: (1) child holding parent’s finger, (2) fingers on fingers (both on the inside), (3) palm on palm, (4) palm on outside of hand, and (5) child holding parent’s fingers and palm. For each hand holding position there are distinct sending, receiving and neutral contact points. Adding the haptic sensation of holding hands to online conversations may foster a sense of proximity or “togetherness”. Pilot user tests with prototypes support this concept and provide new insights for future developments.
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