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

Paul Frosh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


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

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, © The Author(s) 2016.


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


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