The handshake and the touch

by Dries De Roeck on November 27, 2019

A little incrowd social media storm was triggered by @aliekens posting an image of the original 1990’s ‘Flanders’ Technology’ artwork. I think it’s safe to say that most people who grew up in Flanders in the 90’s (like myself) have probably seen the artwork somewhere. My personal memory mostly relates to the image being used on cultural information boards near the motorway as well as it being linked (I think) to the ‘house of the future’ project which truly fascinated 12 year old me.

The original 1983 flanders’ technology poster

However nostalgic people might get because of this, it was very interesting to read the reaction from a non-Flemmish person on the image. Marc Steen (NL), who once introduced 10-year younger me to Science and Technology Studies, commented something along the lines of …

“But basically this image has now been redone and can be found on so many stock photo sites.”

A shutterstock search result for human robot handshake

It got me thinking about some specific things about the original image, compared to available stock photo imagery:

  • It’s a handshake, not a touch or intention to shake hands. It signifies technology and humans collaborate. Other images base their visual reference on Michelangelo’s fresco painting ‘the creation of Adam’, in that case it immediately becomes clear who is intended to be superior to the other ie. the human There is an unspoken hierarchy, as it links to the old testament bible story.
  • The human hand is most prominent. The image shows the human hand in the foreground, again highlighting the human role in the relation. There is, however, no dominance in the relationship – there is no actor taking explicit control by giving a power handshake or using a dominant handshake.
  • It’s a manually drawn image. This might seem obvious, but the very specific aesthetic and feeling the image conveys is important. It is more along the ‘vintage’ 1960’s futurism drawings, which makes it rather analogue and rough compared to more recent renditions of the same handshake where the image is digitally produced. Because of this, in my mind, it sparks hope and forward looking positivism instead of a cold, automated and machine focussed world.

So to me, even if the image is as old as I am, it still makes sense anno 2019. It seems like in the ‘80s people greeted computerised systems in order to start getting acquainted with each other. In recent years, I’ve personally been fascinated by how technology has impacted society and how we seem to be trying to ‘reclaim’ technology and make it more human again. In my opinion, the human dominant side of technology is something we need to keep pushing for in order to stay conscious about our own agency as individuals in a data hungry world. This idea is, in my mind, still conveyed in the OG Flanders’ Technology ‘robot handshake’ image.

Or … maybe I’m just trying to justify why Flemish 35+ nostalgic nerds like this image. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reflecting on the image a bit deeper.

Leave your comment


Required. Not published.

If you have one.