Abstracts – Keynote Symposium 2

Digital orientations: reconceptualising everyday media use, beginning with movements of the hands and fingers?
Shaun Moores, University of Sunderland

In this keynote paper, I ask if it might be possible to reconceptualise everyday media use by reimagining its study as part of a larger project, which philosopher Hubert Dreyfus calls a phenomenology of how we come to find our way about in the world, and which is also a phenomenology of how we make ourselves at home in the world. At the centre of that project is a concern with matters of orientation and habitation. The paper focuses on a remarkable feature of everyday life that is rarely remarked on in media studies – the habitual movement of human hands in practical, embodied relations with media and other routinely used objects. Crucially, this involves deft movements of the fingers or digits – for example, pressing on computer keyboards or sliding and tapping on touch-pads and touch-sensitive screens (manipulating musical instruments and work tools too) – hence the play on the word “digital” in the paper’s title. That playfulness helps to make an important point, though, because I have a more general interest in how the manual dexterities of media users are bound up with a far broader ability to find ways about while moving through, and thereby inhabiting, environments of various sorts – including new (and not-so-new) media settings.

Phenomenological approaches to the computal: some reflections on computation
David Berry, Swansea University

Computation is transforming the way in which knowledge is created, used, shared and understood, and in doing so changing the relationship between knowledge and freedom. It encourages us to ask questions about philosophy in a computational age and its relationship to the mode of production that acts as a condition of possibility for it. Today’s media are softwarized which imposes certain logics, structures and hierarchies of knowledge onto the processes of production and consumption. This is also becoming more evident with the advent of digital systems, smart algorithms, and real-time streaming media. We could therefore argue that the long predicted convergence of communications and computers, originally identified as “compunication” (see Oettinger and Legates 1977; Lawrence 1983), has now fully arrived. The softwarised media leads us to consider how mediation is experienced through these algorithmic systems and the challenges for a phenomenology of the computal.

Phenomenology and critique: why we need a phenomenology of the digital world
Nick Couldry, Goldsmiths, University of London

This paper will ask why in particular we need a phenomenology of our experiences of the digital world right now. It will sketch two routes whereby phenomenology can make a useful contribution to contemporary debates about the digital. The first, building on the history of phenomenologically-inspired reflection in media research tries to capture the complexities and paradoxes of the new space-time configurations in which our engagements with digital media involve us: those complexities are increasingly being seen as having ethical consequences, or at least as generating complex interdependencies which require ethical thought if they are to be satisfactorily managed. The second route seeks to interrupt a growing trend in digital sociology which asserts that we live in an age of ‘algorithmic power’ that leaves no room for individual agency or reflexivity: but such assertions ignore the ‘phenomena’ that most organizations today face, which is of trying to match their social and collective aims with the ways in which their digital presence is measured. I call the study of this process of negotiation ‘social analytics’. Through these more and less conventional routes, a phenomenological perspective remains of fundamental importance to humanistic approaches to understanding our lives with, and around, media.

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