With today's technology, we're technically more in touch than ever. But that doesn't mean we're actually touching each other.
For two brothers, it's time we got the hugs we're craving.
Former Google employees Petter and Kaspar Prinz are cofounders of HUG, a new app that sends a digital "hug" to someone using your phone's vibrations. By aiming to change how we think of "staying in touch," the app promotes health, well-being and physical connection across long distances.
After learning that the heart emoji was named the top word of 2014, the Prinz brothers recognized the need for a more tactile way of communicating intimacy.
"With Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp we're constantly trying to keep in touch," Petter Prinz told Mic. "However, we've lost the physical touch. Since both me and my brother have family and friends in Sweden and girlfriends on different work schedules, we started with a prototype for HUG just for ourselves, and it felt good. That's why we want to share it with the world."
Saying it with a hug: HUG's function is similar to the Apple Watch's heartbeat feature. You place your smartphone close to your heart — to "hug" it — while the app's sensor records when and how long you held it. "The receiver will then feel your HUG with a vibration — for the same amount of time you've hugged your phone for," according to a press release.
Users can also personalize the vibrating "hug" by choosing which mood they want to accompany it — happy, curious, sad or loving.
The HUG app tracks who you've been hugging, what kind of hugs they got and the total time you've spent squeezing loved ones, and delivers you notifications based on the data. Hey, we could all use a reminder when we've been skimping on the communication to that friend overseas.
"Sometimes it can be quite stressful with all messages and emails you get everyday," Prinz told Mic. "With HUG you're getting a notification, but to receive it you have to take a pause. It actually calms you down instead of stressing you out."
The cuddling we really need: A vibrating app may not be the ideal (or least silly) way to throw your arms around someone, HUG is a sweet reminder of what too often goes missing from our digital connections.
"Sometimes something as simple as a hug is all you need to bond with someone or make a relationship a bit deeper," Prinz said.
Indeed, science has shown that physical contact can reduce stress, decrease anxiety and strengthen our immune systems. Hugging and touch increase levels of the "social hormone" oxytocin, which "basically promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding," Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist at DePauw University, told NPR.
Plus, past studies have shown that couples who initiate physical intimacy often report higher relationship and sexual satisfaction. A simple touch can have immeasurable impact on those we're reach out to and ourselves.
And that's something even the sweetest heart emoji can't capture. Perhaps an app can give us something our endless texting doesn't always convey: At the end of the day, we just want to get closer.
An earlier version of this article misstated that the HUG app detects your heartbeat. It detects and records how long you've held it for.