With the rise of digital, many have feared it will create a more lonely, withdrawn society. I’ve definitely had my fears. When I watch teenagers standing in a group, every one of them on their phones, probably texting the person that’s standing right in front of them, I admit I’ve had moments of panic for the future of humanity. Then again, I’m sure my parents generation had the same reaction. The big difference is, of course, with the Internet, everything has changed. We’ve all become glued to a digital world, sometimes over a real one.

With more ways than ever to be connected to entertainment, friends & family on not just an everyday basis, but an every minute basis, how can we blame the kids for getting hooked? Our deep sense of curiosity and desire to consume information about even the most mundane things is what separates us from the rest of the species on this planet. But can that curiosity go too far, distracting us from our own physical needs? Are we on a digital-life trajectory that will one day replace the physical? Is it possible for humanity to let go of our physical social needs entirely? I’m no scientist, but I don’t think so. I’ll tell you why.

Humans need physical stimulation. It’s gets our brains amped like no other sense can. Studies of college students in Scandinavia found that those who studied from a physical book retained more information longer than those who studied on screens. Our brains rely on haptics (science of touch) just as much as sight and sound. In fact, touch can even over rule the others. For example, another¬†study found that humans will actually judge someone’s tone based on the temperature or feeling of what they’re holding in their hands. No joke. If your coffee is hot, you’re more likely to warm up to the person. If it’s iced coffee, you might feel they’re taking a cold tone with you. Put a brick in a person’s hands and they’ll judge a harsh tone. A fuzzy teddy bear – the person talking to you is being nice.

brain interpreting touchHow our brain interprets touch. Source: Vox

Sometimes, the digital world can be so divorced of the physical that it’s causing our brains major disorientation. Take VR. People love this stuff. It’s crazy, exciting. Buts it’s totally confusing to our senses. You see yourself on a roller coaster. But your brain is getting conflicting signals: eyes say you’re going up and down like crazy, body says you’re sitting still. Brain = completely confused. We need the visual and physical to work together to understand the full experience. The fact is our brains just haven’t evolved fast enough to appreciate the technology. So until the full experience is replicable, we will always crave the real thing over the digital copy.

In the last 5 years, with the mass movement of online social, there has also been a substantial increase in large-scale social events. From color runs to comic cons, people are seeking out and participating in social gatherings like never before. What this demonstrates is the subconscious need to maintain a grip on the physical social world. And we’re using digital connectivity to find new ways of creating that physical connectivity.

The rise of experiential marketing can also be proof of the back-to-physicality trends pushing against digital immersion. It’s no longer enough for a brand to engage their audience on a screen. The public wants something physical and real to experience. Those brands that can find the perfect mix of physical experiences combined with digital connectivity have the greatest potential for engagement.

Experiential marketing success: Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise by Thinkmodo for Carrie movie release.

The digital revolution would seemingly be coming full circle. Have we reached a tipping point already? Our brains just cannot evolve quick enough to detach from real world experiences and devolve into a virtual universe. But the curiosity is so intense we can’t walk away from the power of digital connectivity to information, each other and new discoveries. We continually seek to find new ways to use the virtual world to facilitate connection to the physical one. Even if it’s not one on one, we are finding ways to surround ourselves with like-minded people. Bonds are formed simply by being at a MakerFair, immersed in the inspiration of others just like yourself.

Until our we evolve to feel satisfied by experiences lacking physical stimuli, our haptic-centric human brains will always crave real world interactions above virtual ones. And we will continue to invent new ways to use cyberspace to merge, amplify and connect to the world physically. We just don’t feel satisfied without it.

Reference: Haptic Brain, Haptic Brand: The Neuroscience of Touch
Feature Image Source: Urbandiversion