Several years ago, robotics researchers at Carnegie Mellon University invented a contraption they called The Hug. It’s a soft, squeezable pillow with two arm-like extensions that employ sensing and wireless phone technology to send a physical touch via long distance.
Let’s say a child wants to send a hug to her grandmother several states away (needs a hug from grandma). The girl squeezes the left paw of her pillow and speaks her grandmother’s name into a microphone implanted in the pillow. Voice-recognition software matches the name to a preset phone number and dials the corresponding Hug pillow at grandma’s house. Grandma’s pillow lights up and sounds off. Grandma squeezes the left hand of her pillow and says, “Hello.” Once the voice link is established, the girl hugs her pillow as if it were her grandmother. Sensors in the other pillow pick up that sensation and, using small embedded motors, move the pillow arms to embrace granny. There’s even heat producing mechanisms to warm up the contact.
To their credit, the team who invented The Hug did so for worthy reasons of providing emotional support for family members living beyond hearth and home. Yet, I can’t help but wonder, is The Hug a useful tool for people separated by geographic distance or an incredibly sad commentary on our society?
While nobody is suggesting a mechanized hug from a sofa cushion is as good as a live hug from a loved one, the inventors apparently believe that it’s better than no hug at all.
At the same time, that we would even think about supplying a mechanical hug as a form of emotional support suggests how much we have adjusted to being disconnected from our fellow human beings.
In Genesis 2:18, the second story of creation, after creating the first human being, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” God is stating it is not good for us to be without human companionship. We were created to be in relationship. Both the wonderfulness of them and the burdens from them, because they help us become the people God wants us to be. We need our relationships and friendships not only for what they give us daily but also for how they shape our character.
That is also why I believe God gave us the church. God knows that as good and well meaning as each of us may be, none of us can be fully whole on our own. God gave us the community of faith so we might have arms of flesh and blood to support, confirm, comfort, confront, guide, call to accountability, love and hug us.
“It is not good that human beings should be alone.” Here in Sheridan we have numerous faith communities, many churches, who would welcome you with real arms and warm hugs so you would not be alone.
Don Derryberry is the pastor at First United Methodist Church.