Aporia of the Touchscreen


Aporia of Touchscreen

Kaerlein, Timo, “Aporias of the touchscreen: On the promises and perils of a ubiquitous technology,” NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies, published on 22 Nov 2012, available: <[www.necsus-ejms.org/aporias-of-the-touchscreen-on-the-promises-and-perils-of-a-ubiquitous-technology]>

On Aporia: > “More refined as a term, it attempts to outline a state of emergency, a system pressure, an ‘urgence’ in the Foucaultian sense,[6] that can serve to explain the success of the touchscreen technology in being a reaction to an exigent problem.”

Drawing from Günther Andrews, Philosopher of technology.

Types of touchscreens:

Capacitative touch, the human body literally becomes a part of the electronic circuit when a touch is registered.

“Bernard Robben and Heidi Schelhowe[13] lists touchscreens as one major component in a design paradigm of tangible interaction, which most of the contributing authors agree to be a descendant and enhancement of Mark Weiser’s vision of ubiquitous computing, first formulated in 1988.”

“While the touchscreen might be the most visible (and tangible) element in this new media ecology, recent developments in embedded networking technologies and interfaces like ‘things that think’ (e.g. RFID), pervasive and context-aware computing, and ambient intelligence complete the picture. Haptic human-computer interfaces play an important role in this setting, as they are supposed to be able to activate users’ tacit knowledge and everyday habits (such as spatial orientation) while presenting the user with a surface cleansed from the computational complexity enabling them.”

“Robben and Schelhowe advocate the concept of tangibility in the German double meaning of the term Be-greifbarkeit, as both palpability and comprehensibility. ‘Tangibility denotes […] manifold relations between meaning and comprehension, feeling and experiencing, thinking and perceiving, which intertwine in medial space.’”

Direct Touch, a shortcut between user and screen, as opposed to indirect interfaces i.e. mouse and keyboards etc. * more egalitarian interface that anyone can use, regardless of proficiency.

“idea of universal direct access is extended into the network infrastructure when devices are used that are connected to the ‘cloud’”

“It’s no wonder we love our printed books – we physically cradle them close to our heart. Unlike computer screens, the experience of reading on a Kindle or iPhone […] mimics this familiar maternal embrace. The text is closer to us, the orientation more comfortable. And the seemingly insignificant fact that we touch the text actually plays a very key role in furthering the intimacy of the experience.[34]” * Holzinger, A. ‘Finger Instead of Mouse: Touch Screens as a Means of Enhancing Universal Access’ in Universal access: Theoretical perspectives, practice, and experience edited by N. Carbonell and C. Stephanidis. Berlin: Springer, 2003: 387-397.

“Hartmut Böhme has pointed out that ‘our contemporary culture which has been formed under the double primacy of writing and the visual sense, has distanced itself from the experiences of touch’.[39] He assumes that there is something like a hidden cultural history of touch permeating the regimes of the visual.”

“McLuhan’s bold characterisation of electricity as a tactile medium[41]”

“In fact, with the touching of the screen by a finger, the charge transferred to the user’s body establishes a closed cycle of interaction. Human and machine merge into one as far as the electrical engineer is concerned.”

“Other problem areas are of a similar character. The occlusion problem occurs because input and output device converge in the touchscreen. This is seen simultaneously as one of the main advantages of the technology because it cognitively relieves the user – but it impedes immersion because the user’s hand is constantly crossing their field of vision. Lev Manovich has framed this conflict in terms of the fundamental difference between the purposes of representation and control that afflicts interfaces in general, such that ‘the computer screen becomes a battlefield for a number of incompatible definitions – depth and surface, opaqueness and transparency, image as illusionary space and image as instrument for action’.[48] Again and curiously, it is the user’s body that he finds himself reduced to and it obviously gets in the way of a satisfying interaction.”

“Even worse: a single touchscreen always feels the same regardless of its current use. Compared to the older generation of cellphones featuring physical keyboards, the poor haptic variability of the touchscreen soon becomes evident.”

“that a touchscreen, despite its suggestive name, cannot be operated blindly like a keyboard by a proficient user – because one necessarily requires visual support to navigate its surface.”

‘Interactive surfaces bring with them the dilemma to make virtual objects “touchable” but not really physically tangible.’[50

Still, the general impression remains: the strengths of the touchscreen are often just its weaknesses in disguise, and the user’s body seems to be the persistent source of most problems – be it in undesirable side effects or unfulfilled sensual entitlements.

“As the proposed means of solution (in this case: the touchscreen interface) is itself a technological means, it simultaneously occupies the position of antidote and poison in the sense of a pharmakon. Bernard Stiegler, in a tone comparable to Anders’, has framed the question of technology in this way: technology is marked by an ‘irreducible ambivalence’,[67] both enhancing human capabilities and delegating them with detrimental or ‘toxic’ effects.[68]”