Get Closer

The future of intimacy, tech-style.

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What comes after Flickr, after Twitter? What comes after every stranger on the Internet has studied your wedding photos more closely than you have, after business associates know details of your life you previously reserved for priests and bartenders and you’re left wondering how to establish a degree of intimacy with your nearest and dearest that remains exclusive, unequalled, special?

How about the Siamese twins of toilets, the Twodaloo? As its name suggests, the Twodaloo is a commode for couples that consists of two regular toilets positioned side by side in reverse direction, so its users sit facing each other. A “modest privacy wall” blocks inadvertent views of laps, but provides no protection at all against the pinched facial contortions your beloved undergoes while struggling to evict last night’s pot roast.

If this sounds like a joke, it was — 10 years ago. That’s when Saturday Night Live featured a virtually identical product in one of its fake commercials. But the bathroom visionaries behind the Twodaloo are serious. A company representative told the San Francisco Chronicle that research shows 36 percent of couples already conduct their business in each other’s presence. With the Twodaloo, you never have to fight over who goes first. It’s also environmentally correct: A single flush empties both bowls at once.

Ultimately, however, the Twodaloo’s strongest selling point is the way it can substantiate a couple’s exclusive bond. It’s one thing to be a MySpace friend, a T-Mobile Fave Five, or even a Craigslist casual encounter. Collocational crapping demands an entirely different level of commitment.

As remarkable as it seems amidst our current epidemic of social networking, where even a task as mundane as buying a doormat has become a communal experience, it wasn’t so long ago that Harvard professor Robert Putnam characterized us as a nation of social ostriches. More of us were bowling, the professor explained in an influential 1995 essay, but fewer of us belonged to bowling leagues. We were “bowling alone,” and not just in bowling alleys. Video games, VCRs and the Sony Walkman had liberated leisure from the tyranny of the group, but at what expense to community, democracy and matching bowling shirts? And wouldn’t the Internet only exacerbate this trend?

If only! Today, strangers know more about each other than spouses of earlier centuries did. iPhones and BlackBerrys keep crushing solitude at bay in movie theaters, grocery stores, and any other place not packed with our favorite confidants. Yelp.com, Web 2.0’s version of the Yellow Pages, isn’t just the source of restaurant addresses and nail salon phone numbers; it can also lead us to new lunch pals and manicure buddies.

For friendship, this is a boon. For true love, it’s a challenge — when raging intimacy is the lingua franca even amongst strangers, a new market for intimacy enhancement emerges. And thus there are products like designer Mehdi Mojtabvi’s Love Mattress, which is designed to promote longer, more intense snuggling than one can achieve in a traditional bed. Slip your arm beneath your partner’s torso, and instead of getting pinned there as it would on a traditional bed, it slips comfortably in between the Love Mattress’s fabric-clad slats.

Another designer, Laurence Willmott, has created clothing borne of his observation that “when couples walk together they use their partners’ pockets as their own.” To facilitate such behavior, Willmott has designed a pair of jeans featuring a right rear pocket that’s perfectly angled to accept the hand of the wearer’s partner. To complete the embrace, a complementary sweatshirt has a pocket on the left shoulder.

While such innovations may make it easier for couples to publicize the unmatched intimacy of their union, do they also undermine that union by reducing the effort that coupling has traditionally required? On a traditional bed, you pay penalties (sore limbs, permanent nerve damage, an inability to scratch that itch on your leg) for keeping your arm trapped beneath your snuggle-bunny’s torso all night. Before Willmott’s hug-friendly jeans-and-sweatshirt combo, the most obvious way a pair of lovebirds could tout their closeness sartorially involved matching outfits, an indignity most sane individuals try to avoid at any cost.

That couples no longer need to make such sacrifices may offend those who believe in the value of hard work and sacrifice, but for everyone else, bring on the Twodaloo! After all, the Internet makes it easier than ever to test the waters for compatible strangers—to stay coupled, couples need all the help they can get. Eventually, of course, Apple will invent the iMate, and even Brangelina will forsake each other for more agreeable synthetic versions of the other. Until then, the Twodaloo has replaced the wedding ring as society’s most potent symbol of exclusive commitment. • 28 January 2008

 

Greg Beato is a contributing editor at Reason magazine. Follow @GregBeato on Twitter.

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