Do-it-yourself for decades was the realm of men, hiding in their man-cave tool sheds, fixing up old rusters and bragging about it. Things have changed and even big retailers such as Lowe’s now know that the modern women rolls up her sleeves and takes care of stuff herself, whether it is fixing that creaky hinge or redoing boring IKEA furniture.
Womxn are doing more than that, too, although this may not be making the most headlines. While the Wall Street Journal may not be talking about companies such as Touchy-Feely Tech, a make-your-own vibrator kit, which in some way represent the next frontier of do-it-yourself.
The company’s story is also a good picture of the changing world we live in. Alice Stewart, founder of Touchy-Feely Tech, graduated from Kingston University in London in 2014 with an art and design background.
I was the only one who knew what an Arduino was
That year, a workshop called the Hackspace opened at the university; there were 3D printers, electronics, software and hardware. It was a creator’s dream space. Despite leaving university with no understanding of electronics, engineering, coding or programming, Alice was offered a job at the Hackspace, because she was somehow the only person on campus grounds who knew what an Arduino was (girl brain power, y’all). For reference, an Arduino is an open-source maker of single-board microcontroller kits for building digital devices. It would also be the basis of Touchy-Feely Tech.
Being completely self-taught, Alice realised that there were no teaching kits out there for people like her. Most of the kits were for children, and she was tired of the kits on offer for adults – how useful is building a blinking LED light or a radio – beyond the activity of the assembly of parts, there was no real usage beyond the project, at least not since Netflix replaced radio soap-operas. How true. I tell her that I too, have a personal interest in coding, but beyond starting and stopping an online course multiple times during these Covid months, I have not progressed much.
An angry mob
Thus, was born Touchy-Feely Tech that is, at its heart, an educational kit and experience that combine electronic hardware, software skills and hands-on craft to create an object that you can use everyday, customised the way you want.
At the end of 2018, Alice and Dani Clode, the other half of Touchy-Feely Tech, held their first workshop during Museum Night in Amsterdam. It quickly sold out and went viral. That evening, they finished five workshop sessions of an hour each, with 10 participants per session. Alice recounts, “There was an angry mob of people who turned up and could not get a slot.”
Alice tells me that there’s something about STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education that makes sex palatable. “People don’t become as discriminatory,” she says. Touchy-Feely Tech empowers you by showing you that you have the power to build and create something. But when you marry that with a sex toy, it is another level of empowerment to have complete agency over an intimate object.
Alice recalls a Dutch couple, perhaps around 70 years of age, who had come to the door of the workshop on Museum Night and asked what this was. After they were told they could make their own sex toy, they ran into the room, sat down and waited for the workshop to start. Alice, Dani and the organisers scrambled to find them an extra kit, because “we just had to let them”. Other feedback from the workshops too, have been similarly warm. A participant said that they met their now best friend at a Touchy-Feely Tech workshop in Berlin, another said that she was already debating a career switch and made the move when she saw in the workshop that work in creative tech was possible.
We can be curious again
A Touchy-Feely Tech workshop can be an hour long or five, and can be scaled from simply an interactive digital workshop to a one-hour session of just programming, or a five-hour one that can see the participant soldering, doing electronics, and coding.
Though sex robots may be cool to talk about, and shows off technology’s seemingly limitless capabilities, I feel it might be somewhat alienating to the general public. With Touchy-Feely Tech, there is a friendly, unintimidating kit for adults to be curious again, about their own bodies and along the way, maybe discovering a hidden talent or two.
Who knows, Touchy-Feely Tech might even make a programmer out of me.