Touch Me, Please Touch Me!

by Srinivas "Sage" Reddy | Join Sage on Google+ here

Stop! I mean go on.

“If you’re not going to be there for me when I need you the most, how can I really count on you?” she informs me, tears welling up in her soft eyes. Boy, I didn’t see that coming. But touché!

Guilty as charged! Even so, her pain is now my pain. I want to touch her face, hold her close and comfort her. After all, she’s my beloved wife, the love of my life. Interesting though, how pain makes some women look even more beautiful.

My lovely wife wants me to touch her. And this fool, he won’t. In fact, I have kept my distance from her for more than 48 hours now. And I have no intentions of changing my conduct for another 48. What’s wrong with me? Oh, plenty. But more to the point, I won’t touch my wife or get too close to her, not because I’ve stopped loving her, but because of the flu bug she’s caught on this trip to India.

I don’t want to catch her bug.

While misery loves company, my view is two people miserable does not make for a better home. Besides, I’d be of more use to her if I don’t fall sick as well. So I’ve kept my distance. My physical aloofness has been very hard on my wife. This has never happened before. She feels quarantined.

You see, Becca, is the tactile and touchy-feely type. Tactile means “perceptible by touch.” When someone is “tactile,” it means they relate to their world primarily through their sense of touch. Becca’s always touching folks and hugging them. It doesn’t take much for her to hug someone, even a total stranger. My wife doesn’t care for superficial hugs, and loves to give and receive good solid hugs.

Naturally, if you’re tactile and touchy-feely, your need for touch gets even more pronounced in an intimate relationship. Depriving someone like that of touch is like depriving them of oxygen. My wife is one of those people who’ll die from lack of touch before she’ll die of hunger. Thats how important touch is for this beautiful woman.

My wife has what I call “touch hunger.”

All this makes it look as if I don’t care for touch, doesn’t it? If only. Guess what? Like Becca, I too am the tactile type. I feel things out. I feel situations out. I feel people out. I touch people all the time and I love to be touched back. I too harbor this touch hunger.

Difference is, I, being a male, can do a better job of hiding my need for touch than a woman can. Hey, I’m a man. Men are supposed to be tough, right? When a man has a need to be touched, it could be construed as a weakness, especially in America. You’d be thought of less than a man. So I could put on a tough front, which I don’t. And it wouldn’t fool my wife anyway.

Ok, so both Becca and I have this thing called “touch hunger.” Are we strange and unusual?

Yes! But guess what? You have it too.

As does everyone else on this planet, whether they know it or not.

Your brain on drugs, I mean “touch”

Of all the five senses, touch is the most interesting. Not to mention necessary. Any physical movement on your part requires an internal awareness of your body that calls for proprioception, which is an internal form of tactile sense. The sense of touch is the first to develop in the embryo, which is how infants figure out their environment and bond with others. Your sense of touch is always on; it never takes a break. Even when all other senses quit on you in old age, your tactile sense will continue to function.

Throughout your life you’ll use your sense of touch to learn, protect yourself from harm, relate to others and experience pleasure. Even so, unlike your other senses, touch is very hard to isolate and study. That’s because tactile sensory information is delivered to your nervous system from every single part of your body.

There is a direct connection between the touch you receive (or don’t) and the stress you experience (or don’t). Affectionate and attentive touch reduces your anxiety, which in turn reduces your systemic stress. Deprive yourself of touch and it’ll have the opposite effect: it will increase the levels of stress hormones in your blood, most notably cortisol and norepinephrine.

Chronic stress will also mess with your immune system, which translates to poor health, be it mental, emotional or physical. In children, this can be dangerous. Chronically high levels of cortisol prevents normal brain development in a child and even damage it, especially the hippocampus. The hippocampus, as you may know, is the part of the brain that has to do with memory and learning. This might explain why children robbed of affectionate touch have learning difficulties.

Affectionate touch is necessary for the physical, mental, and emotional development of a child. Ever heard of “failure to thrive syndrome?”

Its a phenomenon that puzzled many a doctor in the first half of last century. Despite good food, clean environment and proper medical care, the majority of infants and children in hospitals and orphanages did not develop normally. Many died. It breaks your heart, but it happened. Why?

It’s because these infants received everything… except touch.

Next, let’s do an experiment.

What would happen if we were to take infant monkeys, separate them from their mothers and siblings, and put them in cages with two “surrogate” mothers. Food is what infants are really after, right? So let’s have each of these surrogate mothers hold a milk bottle. We’ll make one of these mothers a wire monkey and the other, a wooden monkey wrapped in cloth. How do you think the infant monkeys will respond?

If you knew the outcome, you’d jump all over me and call me “cruel.” However, in the interests of science and health, this is precisely what psychologist Harry Harlow did back in the 1950s. Wanna know the result?

The infant monkeys desperately clung to the wooden surrogate monkeys that were wrapped in soft cloth for hours, forgoing their desire for food in favor of the soft comfort of the cloth. What does that tell you?

As mammals, our need for touch is greater than out need for food. Or for that matter, money, sex or anything else. While it’s true that food is a big part of infant-mother bonding, what the infant is really after is affectionate touch. Food is just an excuse to obtain this live-giving touch.

As if I haven’t tormented you enough already, wait till you hear the rest of monkey experiment story.

Infant monkeys isolated from their mothers and robbed of touch exhibited stereotypical abnormalities. They engaged in self-clasping and rocking behaviors, were aloof, avoided socializing with other monkeys, disliked being touched and were very timid. When they did socialize with other monkeys they were too aggressive, violent even. They had difficulty finding sexual partners, difficulty mating and abused their mates and offspring.

After Harlow’s experiments, many others have conducted studies to see the effects of touch deprivation on human development. And they all came to similar conclusions. No one doubts anymore that affectionate touch is key to a human being’s proper development. The lack of it can cause depression, neurotic behavior, memory deficits and even illness.

And you thought it was just “touch!”

You deserve a daily touch bath

Let’s get back to my wife. As of this writing, she’s over her flu bug and back to her bubbly self. As a couple, we’re now back to being our usual silly, touchy-feely selves.

Sometimes I think I’m the luckiest man alive. If you’re a man or a woman and your partner doesn’t just love you to pieces, but demonstrates this love through affectionate touch, you’re home to riches no money can buy. If you don’t see that, you don’t know how good you have it.

My wife gets as much from giving the gift of touch as she does by receiving it. Not a day goes by when she doesn’t stand behind me and stroke my head with her gentle hands. Be jealous. :) If you use your head a lot, like I do, you’ll really appreciate a good head rub.

Does that mean you need to be married to a touchaholic partner to enjoy the gift of touch? Not at all. Get massages. Actually, it’s cheaper to be single and pay for a massage. :) Jokes aside, I have yet to meet someone who does not like massage.

Can’t afford massage therapy, you say? No problem. Who says you can’t give yourself the gift of touch? You can (and should) touch yourself on a regular basis. If that sounds dirty, get your mind out of the gutter. :)

Anytime I feel a little stress, I pull back from whatever I’m doing and give myself a touch bath. My body tells me where I need it. Usually, it’s my face and head and arms and torso.

But why wait for stress to go get a full body massage? Smart people will go get it on a regular basis. Even smarter people do both: get massages from therapists (and/or lovers) AND give self-massages.

You deserve the gift of touch. You deserve a massage everyday. And you can give it yourself!

Speaking of Becca, she has a lovely post on the nuts and bolts of daily self-administered oil massage called Abhyanga: Self Massage. Read it, enjoy it, put it into practice. You can thank me later.

Here’s wishing you a lifetime of loving and affectionate touch!

Image Source: pianoladynancy.com

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has written 23 posts on Ask Sage.

I'm the founder of AskSage.us. I'm a Life Coach, writer, philosopher, blogger, foodie, tinkerer, musician, wisefool and author of the new book Eat for Joy: the 4 golden rules of food.

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Stevie from Catch Him And April 10, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Massaging a spouse and be massaged in return is the expression of love that passes back and forth between the couple. Just like couples should make time for a little romance, a moment in time that belongs to them, so should they for a massage session that they give each other. It is invigorating, and delicious!
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Justin Mazza February 19, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Hi Sage,
Whenever anyone in my home gets sick I do my best to avoid contact with them too until they are feeling better. I like the idea of getting a weekly massage. I just received two coupons in the mail from a local massage clinic that is offering a one hour massage for $45 dollars which is a reasonable price.

take care…
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 20, 2012 at 11:29 am

Good to see you here, Justin. I’d say $45 is a great deal for a massage. I wouldn’t pass it up, especially if the masseuse/masseur is a good one. Another good way to get inexpensive (if not free) massages is to get it from massage school students. Cheers!

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JosephJYoung February 15, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Hi Sage,
Very inspiring post. My wife touchy feely type for sure. Me, not so much, but I do understand the power of touch and try not to keep it back from those in need of it even if it is a hand shake or pat on the back. I remember when my wife and I were going together she brought me over to me her parents for the first time. When it was time to leave I did what I always did, hug the ladies as they gestured, shake the men’s hands, but never a hug. My wife asked me why I did not after and I told her. Well, he is family and at this point I hug his neck too but not at first.

Very interesting how our upbringing plays a role.

Thanks for the share!
Joe
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 10:12 am

Ha ha, Joe. Hugs for the ladies and handshakes for the men. Lots of men can relate to that. Thank you for sharing that! And give your wife a hug for me.

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Stacy February 13, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Hi Srinivas,

Touch is indeed important and the stories of the experiments you shared illustrate just how important it is. I will always remember a story that one of my psychology professors told. He was visiting his mother and out of the blue he started to give her a shoulder massage and she ended up in tears saying how nobody had touched her since her husband had died.

Stacy
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 11:36 am

Wow Stacy! That’s simple story is truly moving. My heart goes out to the professor’s mother. Indeed, nobody appreciates touch as do seniors. We take touch for granted, but old people never do.

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Rizwan Sultan February 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Hey Sage,

Nice post specially i like the photo you shared on start I don’t expect this type of masssage from my wife. :) Monkey is better than my wife Lmao.
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 11:35 am

Hello again Rizwan! Ha ha, no worries. I won’t tell your wife what you just said. :)

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Rebecca Reddy February 13, 2012 at 11:35 am

Having a mother that pampered me with affectionate touch, especially anytime I was ill, left me high and dry when I became an adult and was on my own. Now, thanks to my husband’s suggestion over a year ago, I’ve learned to give myself the daily gift of touch through Abhyanga: the art of self-massage.
~Becca
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 11:39 am

Dear one, I’d say you’re the “queen of touch.” :)

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Martin Casper February 12, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Wow…is all I can say fantastic. Touch is one of the most important aspects of our life and one of the things that we neglect the most. Our friends, our family, our spouses or lovers…they all need touching. We all need touching. We were created to love to feel to touch and to share. Thanks for this “toughing” post.
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 11:33 am

Hello Martin! Good to see you here. I appreciate your comments very much. Indeed, life without touch would be a very cold one.

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Tosin February 12, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Wow, what a post!

A touch is truly powerful. The story of the monkey is truly eye-opening.

I would have to say that it’s important that we stick to touching people who we know would not take offence. I mean it could mean a totally different thing to start touching people at work or customers and clients.

Long read, but worth it.
Tosin
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 11:32 am

Thank you, Tosin. Your concerns are perfectly valid. After touch is truly a very personal thing. I don’t hug people until I know them real well. That said, it really comes down to one’s intention. If your intention is noble, you have nothing to worry about.

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Michael February 12, 2012 at 7:05 pm

An excellent post, Sage. I sure hope Becca is doing a bit better. I have been a big advocate of touch for a long time. I spent many years teaching, and when I was teaching music in elementary school, we did a lot of singing. We would sit on the floor in a circle and the kids would contend to sit next to me. And they had to sit close enough to me to touch.

When I taught high school, the kids had just as big a need for touch, but it is hard to give hugs in that situation, unfortunately. So I started shaking hands with all my students. I would stand outside the door to my classroom and welcome each student into class with a handshake. After a while, kids started greeting each other in the morning with handshakes. And would deliberately seek me out just for the experience of shaking hands.

It was simple and profound, and a lot of fun.
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 11:29 am

Good to hear from you again, Michael. And many thanks for sharing that hank-shaking story. It is truly touching, pun unintended. :) You’re a good man, my friend. I hope many people experience the joy of being around you, as you open yourself to them. Cheers!

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Rosemary O'Shaughnessy February 12, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Hi Sage,

Many thanks for sharing this wise advice. The story of the monkeys reminded me of the Romanian Orphanage children. There development had been badly damaged due to the lack of human contact including touch. I hope your wife is feeling better in no time at all. take care Rosemary
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 11:26 am

Thanks for sharing that, Rosemary. Good to hear from you again. I’d like to read up on that Romanian Orphanage story.

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Mario Miranda February 12, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Srinivas, thanks for this insightful post. I have overlooked so much the importance of touch, but come to think of it, need so much to give it and to receive it as well. It must also affect our longevity! And our pets need it too. My dog would die without someone to not only feed her but per her every day.
Great connecting with you!

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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 11:24 am

Hello Mario! Good to see you here. Agreed, regular exposure to affectionate touch would contribute to our longevity. And if I were your dog, I would die of loneliness (from lack of affection) before I died of hunger. :)

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Hezi February 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm

lol.. that was fun to read! from the beginning (nice photo by the way) to end. You seem like a lucky man, or at least smart enough to have find the right woman for you. The infant monkeys experience at the middle really helped to show your point. As always a great post. Keep them coming!
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 11:21 am

Thank you, Hezi. Good to see you here again. Don’t know how smart I am, but smart enough to find a good woman. :)

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marquita herald February 12, 2012 at 7:31 am

Oh I love the image you used! I never thought of myself as someone who was particuarly touchy feeling until I moved to Hawaii. Here hugging is just part of life – everybody hugs and kisses! That became a part of me pretty quickly and I remember this one time I was entertaining a client from Japan (decidedly non-touchy feely culture!) and we’d partnered in a golf tournament and really aced it -I got all excited at the end and gave him a big hug. He just stood there looking at me for a long moment, and I thought “oh man, I’ve really screwed this up” but before I could apologize he got this big grin on his face and huged me right back. Whew!
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 11:20 am

Whew! It felt like I was right there with you, Marquita. I’ve been in my many such soups myself. Glad it turned out well with your Japanese friend. :) People are quirky about touch. With touch, we’re getting getting quite personal. When you touch someone, you literally touch their soul. Scary. :)

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Jayne Kopp February 12, 2012 at 6:31 am

Hi Sage, you know I am ok with touch… but I’m not what you would classify as “touchy feely” unless it’s with my kids… and frankly I could cuddle them till the cows came home.

I like a hug, I like a cuddle.. but I’m not a massage person.

Now my significant other is ridiculously touchy feeling. He could just live his whole life being massaged. He likes foot massages too. (yuck)… don’t get me wrong he is one of the only men I know who’s feet do not smell)… LOL so unfortunately I can’t use that as an excuse.

Now, if I was to get my feet massaged, I’d kick the massagers teeth out… as I can’t stand my feet being touched.

body massages hurt.

Am I weird??

At the end of the day though Sage, I do agree we can’t live without touch. I’ve heard of many of those experiments and studies on babies etc.

I guess I’m ok… I still hand out frequent hugs… so I’m not totally touch deprived.

Hope Becca is feeling better.

Best

Jayne
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 11:00 am

Ah, Jayne, you had me rolling on the floor with your comments. Too funny! I’d say you’re just fine. We’re all strange in our own quirky ways. That’s what makes so unique and adorable. I know this much: I wouldn’t offer to massage your feet ever. I’d like to keep my teeth, thank you. :)

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Carla McNeil, Social Media Manager February 11, 2012 at 10:20 pm

When I was a kid and teenager I hated being touched.

As an adult I have realized the importance of touch and have incorporated a lot more of it in my life. Lucky for me I married a man who has to have his quota of hugs every day. :-)

I notice how much of a difference it makes to my stress levels. I read “How to do Abhyanga” and will have to test it out!
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 10:56 am

So glad you appreciate touch, Carla. And thanks for sharing that. Good to see you here again!

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Donna Merrill February 11, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Hey Srinivas, Another great post! I’ve heard about that monkey experiment and have done research on touch. Why? Because I get all bent out of shape when touched. When I was born, I wouldn’t accept my bottle and concerned my parents and doctor. One day when I layed on a pillow to sleep, my mom picked me up with the pillow and fed me. I sucked it all down. She learned that I didn’t like touch.
My patient husband of 21 years understands me. (don’t get me wrong…I like to touch for a reason ha h aha) He needs touch so I have to remember to touch him during the day. But I’m not good at it. If I am sitting relaxing, an he comes over to give me a gentle touch I jump to the ceiling.
The only touch I enjoy are my dogs.
What the heck is wrong with me???
When I push myself to go for a massage I laugh hysterically. My accupuncturist once told me that was a sign of releasing energy.
Reading this post has really got me thinking to go for touch therapy.
I’m making a point now for my call to action to try to touch every day.
Thanks for the enlightenment
Donna
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 10:55 am

Thanks for sharing that, Donna. You leave with a chuckle, as always. I wouldn’t be too concerned about your freakishness with touch. You’re certainly not averse to it when YOU want it and expect it. A new-age practitioner might tell you that it goes back to your previous lives, assuming you believe in that. :)

No matter. What you have is something very similar to phobias. Fear of water, fear of flying etc. All phobias are irrational, but they’re very real to the person having them. It’s a mind-body conditioning that can be overcome. Energy-psychology would prove extremely useful with this kind of stuff. You can do it yourself. Or drop me a line if you need my help. Cheers!
ps:- give your good husband a hug for me. :)

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Donna Merrill February 17, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Thanks my dear friend. I have been working on Phobias for a while and have gotten rid of a lot. Hypnosis was the think that worked great for me. Also Visualizations. The touch part….well, gotta work on that lol
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Lesa February 11, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I want to comment on this statement: “Even when all other senses quit on you in old age, your tactile sense will continue to function.” This is something to remember when you visit old people or someone seemingly “out of it” in a hospital — when you don’t know what to say (or wonder if they can even hear/understand you), a simple touch means a great deal: Hold a hand, rub a shoulder or arm. Caress the hair. These simple touches convey much more than words that you are there and still care.

When my grandfather was dying, I sat beside him for 3 weeks and held his hand. I knew that he knew I was there and that my presence was comforting to him. There is magic is the simple touch and we often take it for granted. Thanks for sharing the science behind the value of touch; maybe this will help some people put more value in touch.

Absolutely loved this post!
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 10:44 am

Thank you sharing that, Lesa. I love your stories. They are powerful. Everyone hungers for touch, especially seniors and old people. A simple touch is worth more than a zillion words to a dying soul, especially if they’re near and dear.

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Jamella Biegel February 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Hi Sage,

Interesting post. I am a touch person and have no problem touching others – except when they are ill, as with your wife. :) . Sometimes a simple touch can mean so much to a person. And it’s such a simple thing to do, right?
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 17, 2012 at 10:38 am

Well said, Jamella. A simple touch can do wonders when used judiciously.

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Herbert February 11, 2012 at 11:31 am

It really feels good when you that someone especially your loved ones would pamper and comfort you.
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 14, 2012 at 4:36 am

Hello Herbert! Good to see you here. Get pampered! What else is life for, right? :)

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Sarah Arrow February 11, 2012 at 11:17 am

I love this post Srinivas, touch is so important. I feel sad when other put down touchy-feely people as if they are doing something wrong, to reach out and touch someone is a gift.
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Srinivas "Sage" Reddy February 14, 2012 at 4:35 am

Hello Sarah! Good to hear from you again. I agree, it’s sad. But we’ll come around soon enough.

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