The mouse, the screen and the Holocaust witness: Interface aesthetics and moral response

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How do the aesthetic attributes of digital interfaces affect users’ ability to respond morally to the witnessing of suffering? Focusing on mainstream Graphical User Interfaces (GUI), this article proposes a phenomenology of user experience centred on the moral obligations of attending to, engaging with and acting upon digitized Holocaust survivor testimonies. The GUI, it argues, produces a regimen of eye–hand–screen relations that oscillates between ‘operative’ and ‘hermeneutic’ modes of embodied attention, creating a default condition of bodily restlessness that threatens prolonged, empathetic encounters with depicted others. Nevertheless, interface attributes of real-time screen interaction, haptic sensuousness and user-indexicality enable moral engagement with the witness-survivor, while translating information-sharing into the moral action of co-witnessing. These attributes enable an ‘ethics of kinaesthetics’ that converts sensorimotor responsiveness into moral responsibility. Digital interfaces have established a historically novel situation, where moral response to distant suffering depends on the smallest movements of our fingers and eyes.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)351-368
Number of pages18
JournalNew Media and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Aesthetics
  • Holocaust testimony
  • attention
  • embodiment
  • ethics
  • haptic
  • indexical
  • interface
  • moral response
  • witnessing

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


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