Internet as an extension of the lifeworld? Phenomenology as a tool for describing Internet-mediated experience
Maren Wehrle, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
In times of portable internet, media is fully integrated into our everyday activities, thus it is difficult to separate it from what we call our real life or, to speak phenomenologically, our lifeworld. The smartphone for example includes all kinds of media, information and social spheres, like print, audio and film media as well as special applications that guide users through their daily lives. It is therefore no longer just one medium, a telephone, but a lifeworldly tool or even an extension of the lifeworld. What can phenomenology, its methods and categories contribute to our understanding of the new phenomena of the internet? I would suggest a concept which distinguishes between different intentional modes of access to the world – passive, kinaesthetic, doxic and epistemic – which range from implicit to explicit stages of consciousness and experience. This concept should then be applied to internet-mediated experience to show how these new forms of experience change the way in which we perceive the world, ourselves and others. New media are thus seen as modes of experience that offer new possibilities for constituting personal reality domains, while still being integrated with the cohesion of a life-narrative.
Mediated orientation: a phenomenology of everyday diasporic space
Eyal Lavi, Goldsmiths, University of London
Media are central to contemporary diaspora, but because they are commonly theorised using the concepts of national or ethnic identity, they have been understood primarily as sustaining connections to the distant (ethnic) nation-state. Phenomenology offers a different conceptualisation: instead of enabling connections to place, media are understood to participate in the construction of everyday diasporic space. This paper reports findings from empirical research on media and the experience of everyday place among British-born Jews and Israeli migrants in London. Drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception and the work of humanist geographers, I theorise media as phenomenal ‘background’: they are both taken-for-granted material and symbolic elements of the environment, and resources for orientation within those environments. As resources, however, media are highly unstable and contested, paradoxically leading to intensification of mediated orientational practices. This is particularly evident in periods of conflict in Israel/Palestine, when news simultaneously disrupts people’s sense of place and is used by them to repair their disorientation. Several strategies of this repair work are discussed, leading to an account of the diasporic (media) experience that addresses the complexities of contemporary space beyond ‘identity’.
Mediation and the revelation of a ‘face’ in encounters between selves and others online
Eleanor Sandry, Curtin University
This paper considers Emmanuel Levinas’ phenomenology of the ‘face to face’ (1969), together with Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska’s conception of mediation as a process integrally connecting human subjects with media (2012), to ask whether the experience of mediation can lead to an ethical encounter between self and other. The phenomenological tradition of communication theory describes communication as an opportunity to encounter the other, as seen in Levinas’ conception of the ‘face to face’. Although Levinas was primarily concerned with self-other encounters in physical space, the Levinasian ‘face’ is not just a set of human features that can be recognised. Instead, the term draws together all that the other does to reveal aspects of their personality to the self, suggesting that a ‘face’ might also be revealed in online encounters. Indeed, Kember and Zylinska argue that online social networks “facilitate the individuation of the human on three different levels: technical, psychic, and collective” (p.166). Furthermore, their contention that media and subjects are mutually co-constituted in an “intertwined process of media coproduction”, such that “life is mediation” (p.164), supports the idea that humans reveal themselves online in ways that are different from their offline encounters, but possibly no less authentic.
Buffering . . . . . . Subjectivities of temporal control on the Internet
Fenwick McKelvey, University of Washington
We sit in front of our computers waiting for media to load, download or buffer. Skype conversations stutter into fragments too choppy to permit conversation. Avatars in virtual worlds perish when lag delays players’ commands from arriving in time to dodge an attack. Our communications online depend on access to responsive and reliable rates of transmission to the point that our experiences suffer when we lose access. Increasingly, Internet Service Providers and other network owners manage these rates of transmission online. They create different temporalities of transmission: crystallizations of pasts and futures defining the present moments of transmission. The capacity to produce and assign temporalities depends on advanced Internet routing algorithms. These processes transmit bits of information online and enact what I call a transmissive control. In this presentation, I explore the subjectivities imparted by transmissive control. What is the experience of having your communications delayed? I refer to this subjectivity as transmissivity. It includes not only the effective frustration caused by delays, but also fears of being watched or being remembered by algorithms. My discussion contributes a novel perspective to studies of Internet control, namely how a systematic control of transmission influences uses of the Internet.
The importance of being-towards social: mood and orientation to things and applications in social media
Leighton Evans, Swansea University
Discourses around the use of the Internet and digital communications have polarised around positive interpretations of sharing information (Shirkey, 2011), or around lamentations about the emaciated nature of communication and shallow understanding that arises (Carr, 2011). These popular discourses pay little or no attention to the orientation of users of the technology and the aims and objectives of those users as they engage with digital devices and applications to navigate the modern world. Through an investigation of patterns of use of the location-based social network Foursquare derived from an extensive ethnographic survey of users, this paper focuses on the orientation of users towards location-based services. Utilising Heidegger’s notions of mood and attunement to the world, the paper argues that the towards-which of the user, that is the mood of the user in a phenomenological sense, is critical to their experience of using location-based services and the revealing of place that emerges from that usage. A contrast between a technological and a poetic or computational revealing of place can then be established based on the phenomenological orientation of user to device, application and world. The emphasis on orientation and attunement has important implications for software design, application interfaces and data services.