In a society where digital connections are accepted as the norm, “Skinship,” written and directed by London-based filmmaker Nichola Wong, implores us to ask a disconcerting question: are we losing touch with our sense of touch, with human skin-to-skin contact?
“‘Skinship’ was conceived on an idyllic beach in San Sebastian, where I found myself captivated by a group of 20-something Europeans, whose obsession with their devices rendered them oblivious to the beauty that surrounded them and also one another,” Wong told me via email. “I thought it was a shame, but I thought ‘who was I to judge?’ I’d done the very same on many occasions. It was something that got me thinking about my own relationship with technology, and I had observed at that time in my life that I was feeling very disconnected from myself with the increasing prevalence of technology in my day-to-day life.”
From an evolutionary perspective, the physical and emotional need for touch is vital. “In recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch,” according to Daniel Keltner, the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley in a 2015 Psychology Today article. Strong team dynamics, decline in disease and greater nonsexual emotional intimacy are just a few of the reasons cited. “This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding and health.”
In previous pieces, I’ve addressed the paradox of technological advancement. Technology’s progression has certainly seen numerous benefits. Innovative platforms for communication have been established, allowing us to communicate in various ways and with more immediacy. However, I’ve also written about the flip side of our digital world. “Skinship” encourages us to take a closer peek at these darker connotations.
Set in the near future, the film portrays what life is like when electronic usage is chronic. We follow the protagonist, Mel (played by Anna Marie Cseh), a married office worker, desperately yearning for physical contact; contact that was painfully lost in her marriage. When we see Mel and her husband living in their home, they’re together but evidently apart. They’re in the same physical space but simultaneously separated. Without touch, physical and emotional intimacy evaporates. Since Mel desires to reclaim her capacity for touch, she visits a professional ‘touch therapist’ for guidance.
The film’s message is symbolically powerful. The therapy sessions are located in a dimly-lit room, away from the commotion of the city (perhaps representing the notion that touch is no longer mainstream.) Several scenes feature white, gray and black tones, relaying an aura of loneliness and alienation.
“I think the characters in the film embody my own constant struggle with trying to stay connected (in a human sense) in a technological world,” Wong said. “The subject of the film is something I think about all the time and something that needs constant management in my day-to-day life. With technology becoming more and more ingrained into our daily lives and it being a cultural norm for the younger generations, I think it’s important to have an awareness of the negative consequences of technology and enforce balance, if not for our own sake then for our children.”
“Skinship” has inspired me to be extra-mindful of balancing my screen time. And as an affectionate person, I personally hope hugs never go out of style.
“Skinship” can be viewed here: https://www.nowness.com/series/dark-web/skinship-nichola-wong