For many of us since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the comfort of physical contact has suddenly been replaced by faltering familiar faces on a screen. Yet even before the lockdowns and self-isolation imposed by governments to fight the coronavirus outbreak, human social interactions had slowly been reduced by information technologies. But can a hug ever be replaced?
This is the main question at the heart of Lithuanian designer Elena Lašaitė‘s work. Her project Emotional First Aid — created in 2018 during her studies at the Vilnius Academy of Arts — explores the idea of emotional safety in a society tainted by loneliness and excessive information.
“It seems that health and safety is often understood just as a big pile of rules and regulations,” Lašaitė told The Calvert Journal. “There is nothing in place to make people feel emotionally safe. Even more so now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is very important to talk about emotional safety, and not just rules of behaviour.”
Inspired by the idea that human contact could be simulated and replaced, just like face-to-face human relations have been replaced by virtual interactions, Lašaitė created a substitute for physical emotional comfort. Rather than being critical of how the online space has taken over our lives, Lašaitė says that digital innovation to promote emotional comfort is something not to be afraid of, but, rather, to embrace — just like the Emotional First Aid vest.
Based on the design of safety equipment, Lašaitė‘s neon orange vest is not meant to save you from a shipwreck, but instead to gently squeeze you and provide the emotional comfort you’d get from a hug.