LOS ANGELES – When your love is hours, miles or oceans away, what can close the distance and make you feel like you’re right next to each other?
How about a pillow that makes you feel a heartbeat away, a lamp you can touch that will light up wherever your long-distance love is or even a T-shirt that will send your hugs. Yes, these are actual products.
As with everything it touches, technology has redefined the modern relationship, specifically the long-distance relationship, allowing love birds to always stay connected across the miles.
“It is a fundamental human need to need to feel loved,” said relationship and technology expert Michelle Drouin. “This is just one more medium by which people can convey the love and affection they have for other people in a way that humans really value.”
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If you’ve been in a long-distance romance, you’re likely among the 1 in 4 internet users who’s used tech to maintain the relationship. And even though nothing can really replicate the true feeling of being with someone you love, tech keeps on trying.
Drouin notes it is important for partners to communicate their boundaries when it comes to technology and to find the product that best fits their needs.
Here’s a look at some of the options either on the market or in the works – the PG version. (This is a family publication, after all.)
Apps about you
We’ll start simply with the apps before we get into, well, the more out there innovations.
There are a number of apps available to smartphone users that help long-distance couples stay updated on each other’s lives since they can’t be there in person. Apps such as Between or Without provide a space for couples to send pictures and messages to each other, keep each other in the loop with dual-calendars and even provide weather information about the city their significant other is located. These apps are customizable to each couple, so it feels like a space just for the two of them.
In long-distance relationships, sometimes what you miss the most are the simple things, like watching a movie together. Rabb.it lets you watch movies, TV and YouTube videos together and message each other about it on their app — just about as close as it can get to watching TV in the same room when you’re hundreds of miles apart.
Wearables to feel connected
While phone apps and websites can help you stay connected, wearable technology can help you actually feel connected. Touch can mean so much in a relationship. So, with that in mind, bracelets you and your partner wear can let you physically feel when you’re thinking of each other.
Bond Touch bracelets ($98 a pair) use haptic technology, which offers tactile feedback like in Apple Watches, to vibrate and light up with a personalized color when one of you taps on the bracelet twice. In the Bond Touch app, you can see “touch conversation” history, when your partner’s battery is low and where they are.
Hey Bracelet ($115 a pair) uses technology to mimic the oh-so-romantic feeling of someone squeezing your wrist. The app is similar to Bond Touch in that it allows you to send your location and scroll through your contact history.
The creators of Hey Bracelet also have a tile called Hey Touch that attaches to clothes, accessories, keys and more, and mimics 200 touch sensations you can transmit over distance. Its website also says there’s more to come.
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On the pricier end, HB Rings ($595 each) function similarly to the distance bracelets by allowing you to feel your significant other’s heartbeat by tapping a ring. It sends real-time heartbeats and saves them. You can also opt into a “surprise me” function prompting the ring to randomly select a time to send a real-time heartbeat.
This next device takes pillow talk to another level. It’s actually called Pillow Talk (approximately $172), and it combines the long-distance heartbeat monitors with a speaker that goes under your pillows so you can hear each other’s heartbeat when you’re sleeping. You each wear a wristband to bed so Pillow Talk can send real-time heartbeats.
While this could be a cool way to replicate the feeling of sleeping next to your partner, there are some complications with the design. The speaker connects to your phones via a head jack cable, so if you have a current iPhone, better reach for that dongle. And if you’re in different time zones, you could still make it work, though the app also doesn’t have a record feature. You could keep the speaker connected and carry it with you. (Just note that a pulse spike while racing for a train or during a workout could inadvertently mess with your partner’s restful sleep.)
So does hearing and feeling your loved one’s particular internal rhythm strengthen your emotional bond? Nope.
Relationship and tech expert Drouin says there’s nothing beneficial to adults. The gesture is largely symbolic, but these products can have a synchronizing role in a relationship to help couples feel connected in their daily activities.
Let your love light shine
This was probably our favorite of all the products we tried. Friendship Lamps ($150) are a way to show someone you love you are thinking of them.
The premise is simple – when you miss someone, you touch your lamp and the other lamp lights up wherever in the world it is located. You can also change the color of the light to convey a special message.
This was the least invasive in terms of lifestyle – nothing to wear or really connect. The lamps have a very minimalist look and go with any decor in your house, and it didn’t mess with your feng shui.
While initially we wondered what the point of tapping a lamp here to turn it on there could be, we found it’s like a sweet little surprise every time it lights up.
Multiple companies make these lamps, and they have become mainstream enough that there are even options on Amazon to choose from.
Sometimes, you just need a hug
If haptics and heartbeats don’t make you feel close enough to your significant other, there are a number of technologies that mimic some of the intimate moments you share while together. (Again, we’re dealing in the PG here.)
One product called the Hug Shirt claims to re-create the sensation of receiving a hug with warmth and heartbeat sensors. To send a hug, you hug yourself while wearing a Hug Shirt and the sensors record the strength, duration and location of the hug to your smartphone app. Your loved one then feels vibrations and warmth through the sensors in the same locations if they’re wearing their own Hug Shirt. Even if you’re not wearing the shirt and your partner is, you can send them a hug over the app.
The shirt is rechargeable and washable and doesn’t have wires connecting the sensors. It is unclear if they are still being sold.
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Numerous Kickstarter campaigns have also focused on bridging the gap of long-distance relationships, and while they didn’t raise the necessary funds to produce more than a prototype, their attempts could be the start of a trend in technology development.
Daniel Burrus, a technology trend expert, calls re-creating human touch a “soft trend,” meaning the tools are available to do it, but it is up to entrepreneurs to create the products. He says “if something can be done, it will be done.”
To that end, Kissenger – a long-distance kissing device – is a silicone smartphone attachment that reproduces a kiss between two devices. Although the device never made it past the prototype phase, the idea was that it would connect to a smartphone messaging app and allow you to plant one on the silicone device, and using pressure sensors, have it re-created on the other end.
The same type of technology was applied to the Freeble hand-holding device, which mimics the feeling of your significant other holding your hand. While connected to a smartphone app, you have to squeeze Freeble, and the corresponding Freeble will apply pressure to squeeze the hand on the other end. According to the Freeble Kickstarter page, the creator was able to make a working prototype and was working out some kinks but hasn’t updated the page since 2017.
USA TODAY reached out to both the Hug Shirt and the Kickstarter developers and did not receive a response.
Fostering physical touch may seem odd, but it can be beneficial in a relationship.
“The point is if this means something to the individual, if they’re getting comfort from it, then who are we to deny them?” said Drouin.
Of course, any technology can encourage codependency when it is already a factor in a relationship. So while these products aren’t inherently problematic, using them could eventually cross a line if it becomes addictive.
“Phone calls can be problematic, text messages can be problematic,” Drouin said. “These heartbeats can be problematic, too. But on their own, I don’t think there’s anything problematic, and it could be beneficial. It can lead to a better relationship, and that should be the goal of all of this.”
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