18 November 21
ZeM-SPRING LECTURE: Sensuous Interfaces, Touching Images: The Ethics of Attention in Digital Media
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How do the aesthetic attributes of digital interfaces affect users’ ability to respond morally to the representation of suffering? Focusing on mainstream Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) rather than less-widely used immersive technologies such as VR, this paper proposes a phenomenology of user experience centred on the moral obligations of attending to, engaging with and acting upon digitized video testimonies. It recognizes that the GUI produces a new regimen of eye-hand-screen relations and embodied (in)attention that can undermine the conventional ideal of prolonged, empathetic encounters with depicted others. Yet it also outlines attributes of haptic sensuousness and real-time screen interaction that enable new forms of moral engagement and even action. Ultimately, it suggests that digital interfaces have established a historically novel situation, where the burden of moral response to distant suffering is extended to the smallest movements of our fingers and eyes.
Paul Frosh is a Professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His publications include The Image Factory: Consumer Culture, Photography and the Visual Content Industry (2003); Meeting the Enemy in the Living Room: Terrorism and Communication in the Contemporary Era (2006, in Hebrew, edited with Tamar Liebes); and Media Witnessing: Testimony in the Age of Mass Communication (2009, and 2011) edited with Amit Pinchevski). His most recent book is The Poetics of Digital Media (2018).