Touch against Fear by Aleksandra Szymanska

Touch against Fear

The thesis book is an ilustrated documentation of a research process that originates in a personal fascination with the phenomenon of phobia. My investigation begun with an exploration of the topic of anxiety. I concluded that the main source of anxiety lies in the fact that we have lost the feeling of security that comes from a sense of belonging in a community. We feel distanced and isolated from each other, disconnected. I became particularly interested in individuals who use sharing platforms like youtube to create new informal types of support groups by commenting on eachothers videos and posts. We are being warned about the dangers of society based on social media, how that will distance us in our real physical life but it is important to realize that social media also connect us in new different ways. My research shows that the online environment can be the place to look for the sense of community we have lost in our physical surrounding. The third element and my last fascination came when I was researching the way our body reacts to the sensation of fear. I have discovered a link between the act of touch and our experience of anxiety. The hormone responsible for experiencing fear in our brain and body is called cortisol. Its levels raise when we feel we are in danger and that causes feeling of anxiety and stress. However, our organisms produce also a hormone called oxytocin that is responsible for lowering the levels of cortisol and relieving us from the sensation of fear. It can be released in response to a supportive touch – a hug, massage, holding hand or stroking with fingertips. When we are being touched in a pleasant way our levels of oxytocin rise, causing the cortisol level to drop and we become less afraid. Touch is also the first language we learn as infants and we use it for instinctive creation of bonds with other people. On a subconscious level the more we touch someone, the more we feel connected to them and so the more we trust them. These three fascinations: anxiety, sharing platforms in the online environment and the soothing effect of touch create the frame for my thesis and lead to a the design proposal. It is a system of objects allowing to transmit the gesture of touch at a distance. I see my project not only as a tool for dealing with anxiety but also as an exploration of the new kind of bonds created between people in the online environment and new forms of language and interaction.

Aleksandra Szymanska

Photo by Astrid Zuidema