In search of friction: A new postphenomenological lens to analyze human-smartphone interactions

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Considering the key mediating role that smartphones play in everyday life, a postphenomenological analysis to better understand how we have power over these devices, how these artefacts empower and simultaneously can overpower us, seems highly relevant. This article will show that in order to engage in such a much-needed postphenomenological analysis, one will first have to address three fundamental, methodological challenges. The first challenge is brought forth by the personalized interface of smartphones, hindering postphenomenologists to unravel the so-called multistability of the device through variational analysis, which typically is an anchoring point in their analysis. The second challenge is that the networked ontology of smartphones disrupts the ideal-typical hermeneutic relationship end-users have with their smartphone. The third, closely related challenge comes with the general focus of postphenomenology on the everyday life, first-person experience of users which leaves many, significant stabilities hidden behind the smartphone’s interface.
The hypothesis of this article is that some people may actually be in a position to look beyond the interface of their smartphones. Their every-day life experience of the smartphone differs from the experience of most smartphone owners because, amongst others, they are imbedded in a macroperception which allows them to bring to the fore what the design of the artefact may hide for others. However, our current postphenomenological lens is not equipped to catch these people with their deviating first-person experiences. This article will turn to critical constructivism to refocus the lens and identify these people. In order to then also include this variety of experiences in the postphenomenological analysis, I will suggest that postphenomenologists should not merely depend on already existing empirical research but also start collecting these experiences themselves by engaging in for instance interviews and focus groups with these identified people. Looking for the friction between these particular, deviating phenomenological experiences and the standard perception, should help us to establish where and how overpowering smartphones shape everyday life.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages36
JournalTechné: Research in Philosophy and Technology
Issue number3
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 31 Aug 2020


  • postphenomenology, methodology, smartphones, power


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