Several currently airing television commercials feature a driver (or accident prevention system) urgently applying the brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian who, oblivious to his surroundings, has stepped into oncoming traffic while gazing intently down at the screen of his smartphone.
If you secretly harbor the hope that the braking effort will fail, knocking the self-absorbed texter into the middle of next week, Courtney Maum’s second novel “Touch” may appeal to you.
Set in the not-too-distant future, “Touch” introduces readers to Sloane Jacobsen, a trend forecaster whose specialty is “mapping out what the wired rich want next.” Her greatest achievement was predicting “the now-ubiquitous touch-screen gesture, the swipe.”
Jacobsen has been recruited as a consultant by Daxter Stevens, the youngest ever CEO of tech giant Mammoth. Stevens is looking for ways to punch up Mammoth’s annual 3-day summit on developing consumer trends. The theme of the summit is “What will we make when we stop making kids?” Mammoth is convinced that the future of the upper echelons of society lies in an increasing reliance of relationships built on electronic communication, to the exclusion of face-to-face, tactile interactions.
Jacobsen’s international reputation as a forecaster, coupled with her publicly stated position that “Reproduction is akin to ecoterrorism,” make her a perfect fit for Mammoth’s theme.
As Jacobsen becomes more immersed in the culture of Mammoth, and the personality and motivation of its CEO, she begins to disengage from her conviction in the irrelevance of personal relationships. And in parallel she uncouples from her significant other of 10 years, Roman Bellard, a Parisian cyber pundit. Bellard has grown an online following by describing himself as a “neo-sensualist” who no longer requires physical contact. To emphasize his conviction he appears in public only in a lycra garment called a Zentai suit, rendering his face unseeable.
Jacobsen’s evolution from a virtual loner who communicates solely via her electronic devices to a woman in a deeply committed personal relationship seems to unfold over an improbably short span of time, although this change may have been catalyzed by the increasingly cartoonish behaviors of both her boss and boyfriend. A subplot involving the rebuilding of her ties to her mother and sister seems a bit too facile, but it augments the author’s premise that human relationships always trump technologic interactions.
A few readers may find some of the language and descriptions offensive, but this book can be a reminder of the danger of allowing the world of high-tech to replace the human need for physical and emotional touch.