Read! Touch by Courtney Maum



by Courtney Maum...


Can Courtney Maum Predict a "Turn Against Tech" with a Return to Human Touch?

306 pp. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. $26.

I'd be lying if I said I finished this (incredible) book. I haven't finished a book in years. I feel good about myself to just purchase the thing, and a real champion if I can get through three-four chapters. 

But this book came to my attention through a few sources. It seemed so relevant as we navigate through the strange new world of swipe culture. The author, Courtney Maum used to be a trend forecaster herself, and a while back started to wonder- is it possible that human instinct could go instinct?

Our other best friend, Kelli Scarr turned us on to the book. Kelli recently participated in  Courtney's Creative Retreat, The Cabins. She taught a master class focused on artists such as Agnes Martin, Arvo Part and Hildegard Von Bingen, who use their work to inspire contemplation and included a sound bath with her lecture. 

A line about the reflexive nature of smart-phones often re-enters my mind: “The almost biological certainty that the more often you checked your cell phone, the more likely you were to find that one wondrous message or notification that would improve your entire life.”  The idea of a return to human touch is what propels this new Painted Sidewalks launch.  I'm just going to leave the experts to their competencies and reprint the NY Times review below. (UPDATE: I'm almost done, and I love it. Courtney's foresight is eerie.)

Book Review: An Exuberant Satire of the Culture of Swipe, originally published in the NY Times by Annalisa Quinn JUNE 5, 2017.

When the comedian Samantha Bee filmed in Rikers Island prison, she had to leave her phone in a lockbox. “I felt like I had gone on a Caribbean vacation,” she said in a recent interview in The Hollywood Reporter“It was the most free I’ve felt in months.”

This line, in its biting bad taste, could have come from “Touch,” Courtney Maum’s exuberant satire of the “wired rich,” set in a near future when “the only thing that people wanted was to stay alive and order takeout and play quietly with their phones.”

The protagonist, Sloane Jacobsen, is a forecaster of consumer desires, famous for predicting the touch-screen “swipe.” (“As elegant as a conductorial movement … swiping was sensual. Swiping was cool.”)

Maum’s writing is easy, eager and colloquial, as oxygenated as ad copy. People “quip” or “croon” rather than speak, metaphors mix promiscuously, points are made twice, italics tilt madly from every page. Less finished but more lively than Maum’s last novel, “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You,” “Touch” sometimes reads like an email from a hallucinating brand strategist trapped on a silent retreat. (“A coming craze for scuba diving. Domestic birds and ant farms. A clamor for new pets. A baby born with webbed fingers, an evolutionary edge. Proof that humans didn’t need separated digits any longer, just a nub to scroll,” Sloane thinks in one of her Sibylline predictive trances.)

Over the course of “Touch,” Sloane loses faith in her job and in techie consumerism, and turns instead toward the messy warmth of real relationships. “Human touch is endangered,” Sloane says, going off-script in a meeting. “You think the future belongs to the type of people who are going to sync their fridges with their smartphones, but people are ready — not tomorrow, but now — to be vulnerable and undirected and intimateagain.”

Worry about the decline of intimacy is almost reassuringly constant. I thought of E .M. Forster’s lament about progress and alienation in “Howards End”: “Month by month the roads smelt more strongly of petrol, and were more difficult to cross, and human beings heard each other speak with greater difficulty.”

Sloane’s stances are not radical (sex over iPhones; family over alienation), but what she thinks is less interesting than how.Maum shines when she writes about creativity, the slow burn and then sudden rush of ideas that lead Sloane to change her life.

Having new ideas feels like love. We use the same liquid, luminous metaphors for both: lightning, fire, magma, light bulbs. But while love stories are almost mandatory parts of novels (including this one), good writing about creativity is rare. Maum captures that fragile, gratifying, urgent process.

Consider Sloane, brainstorming product colors inspired by nature: “Oh, the jolted thrust of something finally right! The outer body flash of it, the hot thrush of quickened heart. Textured images started to burn up at her: tarnished metal, corroded copper. Mica. Moss.” Never mind that Sloane is thinking about colors for tablets. Those visions illuminate the way to her humanist return to nature.

In Forster’s 1909 dystopian story “The Machine Stops,” people live in isolation underground, transmitting images of themselves to thousands of “friends” around the world via glowing plates. They delude themselves into thinking they are connected, while really growing lonelier and lonelier. How could he, a century ago, have predicted the internet so well if the habits it facilitates and the needs it fills were not in us already? Here we are a hundred years later, with different and better tools in the same cycles of alienation, longing and return.

Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter and literary critic for NPR.