The Kiss Transmission Device was recently created in a lab in Japan. This is essentially an internet connected French kissing machine. Yes, you read that correctly. It is a machine that allows you to share actual French kisses via the internet. Okay, they are not actual French kisses…but kind of.

A user of the device caresses an internet connected straw-like mechanism with their tongue, causing the device to transfer the motion to a second straw-like mechanism, ostensibly located in the mouth of a romantic partner. Developers hope eventually to make the device more “tongue like” by adding personalized flavor, moisture and breathing patterns.

The developers view this as a device that will aid in the maintenance of long-distance romantic relationships, allowing geographically separate partners to connect on a physical level. They also talk about marketing celebrity kisses—allowing users to swap spit (er, swap straw movements) with the likes of Justin Bieber or any other celebrity willing to sell a physical piece of hir sexuality.

A quick glance at the comments section of the above linked article shows that reactions are largely alarmist and dismissive. Users of the device are painted as pathetic, and the presence of the device seems to indicate an increasing technological wedge separating human beings and human bodies from one another. For example:

DualQuad440 : “Really sad….Do we really need to become more disconnected from people by kissing plastic objects…”

dmari2083 :Whatever happen to going to the local bar and picking up a lose(sic) woman the old fashion way, hell even a pr0stitut3 if you cant score on your own, but a kissing machine come on you have to be kidding right?”

What these commentators miss is that as sexual beings, humans have always used the technologies of the time in pursuit of romantic fulfillment and sexual gratification; love letters, phone-sex, and now cyber-sex and sexting are all examples. These technologies do not diminish face-to-face sexual interactions, but augment them, as forms of foreplay and/or romantic reminiscence.

On a theoretical level, each new technological medium of romantic/sexual expression forces us to re-examine the enmeshed (but also distinct) relationship between technology and physicality. The Kiss Transmission Device is no exception.

What makes the Kiss Transmission Device so theoretically interesting is its capacity for a particular kind of replicability.  The ability to replicate is present in all of the aforementioned technologies. Even love letters can be replicated and shared outside of their intended audience(s) (e.g. James Joyce’s love letters to Nora). With the Kissing Transmission Device, however, one no long replicates texts and images, but bodily (inter)actions, replete with meaning.

The following questions (to which I do not have answers) illustrate the ways in which a device such as this pushes us to (re)define the complex relationships between  digital and physical; ownership and intention; public and private; intimate and commercial.

1)      If I use the Kiss Transmission Device voluntarily with my lover, and we then break up, and he continues using it even though I no longer wish to kiss him, is this a sexual violation?—What if he shares my kisses with his friends?

2)      If I save the electronic kisses from an old lover, and use them while in a new relationship, have I cheated?

3)      If I save an electronic kiss, and use it later, when the creator of the kiss is no longer engaged, is this masturbation?

4)      If someone sells their electronic kisses, is this prostitution? If not, then why not— what makes it different?

Essentially, these questions can all be collapsed into one: How real is a physical act that is digitally transferred?