Reach Out and Touch…A Gadget?

AT&T spent millions in the 1980s imploring us to “reach out and touch someone.”

The 1990s saw us reaching down to type on our computer keyboards and phones.

And, now, scientists and academics report we’ve come full circle, 21st century style. We still want to reach out, but forget ‘someone,’ we want to touch screens.

The New York Times reports device makers are applying that academic research to their innovations, putting ‘touch at the core of the newest wave of computer design, known as natural user interface.’

And what the public wants, the public gets.

We have iPhones, iTouch, iPods and iPads of Apple, all centered on touch-screen technology. Sony just introduced its new e-readers, risking the backlash of a higher price in order to deliver what consumers wanted: touch screens. is expected to launch a non-glare touch screen Kindle. BlackBerrys are touch screen. GPS devices are touch screen. Digital cameras are touch screen. A.T.M. machines are touch screen.

Get the point?

Scientists say the trend makes sense because people want to see the natural behaviors of their lives, human touch, in the technology they use on a daily basis. Touching screens has seeped into people’s existence especially quickly because it is ‘so natural, intimate and intuitive.’

While computer newbies of the ’80s and ’90s endured “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” to learn the QWERTY keyboard, today’s ‘natural user interface,’ basically fingertips and touch, uses basic human movements that even Mavis need not teach.

“People inevitably point at the screen,” a research scientist at IBM, Shumin Zhai, told the Times. “My own 2-year-old daughter amazingly could use the iPad and somehow it was intuitive.”

Where’s the trend headed? Well, say goodbye to even the need to reach out, for one. Scientists surveyed by the Times predict gadgets of the future will pick up on eye movement and speech alone.