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Reach Out, Touch Facebook Friends With Hugging Vest

There is a growing body of research around the psychology of social networking -- specifically, Facebook. Psychologists must be having a field day, then, analyzing a new garment that gives users a physical "hug" when one of their updates is Liked. Indeed, crossing the physical world with the virtual world of social networking opens up all kinds of possibilities.

Artist Melissa Kit Chow and MIT Media Labs' Andy Payne and Phil Seaton have collaborated on the latest in wearable computers: A vest that inflates to simulate the feeling of a hug any time the wearer receives a Like on Facebook. And, because what's a hug unless it's reciprocated, the huggee can check his or her phone to see who reached out, and can then hug back--provided the original hugger is wearing a vest, too, of course.

A Facebook hugging vest might seem a little silly; that is, until you think about the emotion tied up in social networking. Have you ever gotten a little thrill when something you have posted has been liked or shared? Does your nose ever get even a little out of joint when you see a Facebook friend getting comments galore while figurative crickets chirp at your own social musings?

All of this made me think of some other ways that the Facebook experience could be manifested physically.

How about:

-- A mechanical hand that gives you a pat on the back each time your professional colleagues respond positively to an idea you put forth on your company's internal social network.

-- A vest that shoots a stabbing pain in your back when you get unfriended.

-- Gloves that squeeze your hand every time a Facebook friend lends words of encouragement in times of trouble.

-- Pants with a waistband that tightens every time a friend posts a photo of a dessert.

The possibilities are endless. I can also see how this could go down a dangerous road, so I will stop here. But I will open it up to you: What kind of physical manifestation of social networking do you foresee? We welcome your clean comments below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.