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Open Access The navigational gesture: Traces and tracings at the mobile touchscreen interface

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The touchscreen interface is a threshold between site-specific data overlays and one’s fingers that touch, swipe, and pinch to access information about one’s surroundings and, in the process, leave traces ‐ fingerprints ‐ on the screen. The navigational ‘gesture’ is central to the process of making meaning in two forms of deictic transaction: the gesture of raising and pointing a mobile device (e.g. in the case of the augmented reality) and the finger’s pressing on the touchscreen (activating data overlays) ‐ both of which require pointing and touching. The former is future-oriented, pointing toward some destination; the latter is past-oriented, accruing not only traces of where one has been but also the residue of touching the screen. Gesture and touch intersect in the tracing-tracking that transpires in the present and that holds both past (‘where I’ve been’) and future (‘where I’m headed’). Extending arguments we have made elsewhere about the way navigation shapes and determines how, today, we understand and perform space, time, and subjectivity, in this article we explore how the navigational gesture as a cultural form is related to a deeper cultural logic of indexicality. We consider the relation between the physical use of the mobile micro screen and the haptic experience that this interaction brings about. We address how various traces produced at the intersection of technology and practice function to inscribe time in space. Ultimately we argue that navigation by means of locative (media) technologies proceeds according to a specifically deictic indexicality that opens onto a layeredness that characterised the mobile present.
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Keywords: deixis; gesture; haptic; mobile; navigation; touchscreen; traces; tracking

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Associate Professor of Comparative Film and Media Studies at the Department of Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University. 2: Assistant Professor of Media Arts in the Department of Art and Film and Media Studies Program at the University of South Carolina.

Publication date: March 1, 2014

More about this publication?
  • NECSUS is an international, double-blind peer reviewed journal of media studies connected to NECS (European Network for Cinema and Media Studies) and published by Amsterdam University Press. The journal is multidisciplinary and strives to bring together the best work in the field of media studies across the humanities and social sciences. We aim to publish research that matters and that improves the understanding of media and culture inside and outside the academic community. Each volume includes feature articles, a special thematic section, a video essay section, and a reviews section that covers books, festivals, and exhibitions. NECSUS is targeted to a broad readership of researchers, lecturers, and students, and will be offered as a biannual open access, online journal.

    The journal is published in Open Access, with the following Creative Commons copyright license: Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

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