Matters of Similarity: Affordances of Digital Visualities
Christoph Bareither (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Paper short abstract:
A particular potential of digital media is that they afford practices based on the similarity between physical entities and their computer-mediated representations. Using the example of Emojis, the paper elaborates this argument and shows how affordances of digital visualities unfold in practice.
Paper long abstract:
The concept of affordances is widely used in studies of digital media "to account for the ways that technological artefacts or platforms privilege, open up, or constrain particular actions and social practices." (McVeigh-Schultz / Baym 2015) So far, however, there is a lack of theoretical discussions which consider the concept's analytical potential for an analysis of digital media in contrast to non-digital media. By bringing affordance theories together with Tom Boellstorff's proposal of an "indexical theory" (2012) for digital anthropology and Philip Brey's discussion of the "digital" as related to both the "physical" and "virtual" (2015), I introduce a particular approach to the ethnographic study of visual practices enacted through digital media. From this perspective, particular functions of digital media afford virtual practices based on the similarity between actual physical entities (objects, bodies, spaces or processes) and their visual computer-mediated representations. The empirical example to demonstrate this will be the use of emojis in the context of sharing digital pictures made at heritage sites in Berlin. I will draw on the notion of similarity to discuss how, in this case, the "material dimensions of digital visualities" (CfP, point 3) provide particular affordances for virtual practices. Using an emoji means enacting the similarity between a material entity (e.g. a smiling face) and its visual representation (the symbol/icon of a smiling face) in order to do emotion (Scheer 2016). Thus, emojis are a telling example for how affordances of digital visualities unfold in practice.
The digital turn: new directions in media anthropology [Media Anthropology Network]