The Haptic Creature


Stella is stretched out supinely on her sofa taking a siesta. One arm is draped around Roi, a big ball of fur resting expectantly on her chest, who gently moves up and down with the slow undulation of Stella’s breathing.

Gradually Stella begins to stir, and her breathing grows slightly deeper as a result. Sensing the change, Roi becomes excited at the prospect of her awakening. He stiffens his ears, nudges Stella firmly with his head, and begins a pronounced, brisk “prrrrr…” that vibrates in her chest.

Forced to rise a little sooner then she would have liked, Stella nonetheless gives Roi a firm hug as she sits up. She places him in her lap and, enjoying the warmth of his body, instinctually strokes his fur. Roi’s breathing and purring both slow somewhat. The two sit there together, pleased, while Stella waits for her lingering drowsiness to fade.

Eventually garnering the energy to pick herself and Roi up, Stella moves them across the room to sit at her computer. She returns Roi to her lap and rests her hand against his side. His purring subsides.

Stella checks her Inbox, but the message is still not there. She tries to occupy her time (and mind) through a variety of meaningless computer activities. At the same time, she randomly switches between idly fingering Roi’s fur and gently squeezing his now half-stiffened ears. Stella has waited weeks; she was told she would receive their response, one way or the other, by today.

The thought of not being accepted for the position has weighed on Stella for some time; however, her worry seems more acute this afternoon as she has yet to hear back. She begins to firmly pat Roi’s back, then vigorously rubs his fur. Roi feels her becoming depressed, so he tries to counter by becoming relaxed. He arches his back against her hand, his ears go slack, and his breathing becomes slow and symmetric. The intensity of Stella’s touch diminishes, while her rubbing transitions to massaging.

At that moment, the computer notifies her of new mail.

Stella quickly glances at the screen to see that it is the reply she has been waiting for. Pulling Roi close to herself, Stella is briefly overcome with a sense of distress: will she get the position or not?

She manages the courage to open the missive, which begins with, “After much deliberation, we are very pleased to offer you the position of…”

Stella is instantly excited. She squeezes Roi and lifts him up then nuzzles him. Roi’s ears stiffen, his breathing quickens, and he emits an energetic purr. After a brief yet firm hug, Stella places him back in her lap and resumes stoking his fur.

The two sit together, again, pleased.

The preceding scenario demonstrates the interactions that I investigated in my thesis. Stella and her furry companion, Roi, communicate with each other through touch. Through these touch interactions, each is able to sense the emotional state of the other. In some cases, the exchange alters the emotion of the perceiver.