Forum for Anthropology and Culture, 2019, no. 15



Elena Sokolova
N. N. Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences
32a Leninskiy Av., Moscow, Russia

Abstract: The article explores how the use of smartphones — one of the most widespread user technologies at the moment — changes the traditional (offline) body-oriented practice of authentic movement. It aims to determine one role of the smartphone as a technology of mediation, as well as to highlight the effects of mediation at the level of bodily and sensory experience. Technological industries increasingly focus on data methods that help to exclude the so-called human factor: errors, incorrect information, and the high costs of contact. However, in this general context of the increasing efficiency of research, there is a desire not to exclude the subjective position of a user altogether: it has value for a social researcher, making it possible, with the help of a holistic ethnographic approach, to discover meanings that are inaccessible to big data methods. Based on empirical material, a smartphone can immediately absorb a user’s attention and remove them from the surrounding environment. It also gives users an opportunity to become creators. In this sense, a smartphone camera is like a traditional camera, but it becomes much more effective. It has the potential for expanding a user’s capabilities by connecting people and providing a constant flow of information feedback, including visual feedback. However, there are some limitations imposed by technological mediation, such as a decrease in the ability to fully maintain contact with the bodily-sensory dimension of self and others, compared to offline situations. Intruding into a practice of authentic movement, a smartphone can be perceived as a technological other, an abstract figure filled with various individual meanings, fears, and expectations. As a witness, a smartphone acts the eye of Big Brother, turning authentic movement into performance, but does not allow the majority of practitioners, with their disconnected bodies, to gain an effective sense of this process. Therefore, many of them are not ready to use smartphones in their regular offline formats. Technologies make us connected and visible, but this does not mean to that we are seen in the sense of genuine copresence in authentic movement.

Keywords: body, technologies, smartphone, mediation, authentic movement, witnessing, experiment, ethnography, postphenomenology.

To cite: Sokolova E., ‘The Smartphone as Witness: Technological Mediation of Bodily Sensory Experience’, Forum for Anthropology and Culture, 2019, no. 15, pp. 116–136.

doi: 10.31250/1815-8927-2019-15-15-116-136

URL: http://anthropologie.kunstkamera.ru/files/pdf/eng015/sokolova.pdf