Transmission in Motion


“My mother against a mouse: thoughts about haptic devices” – Jose Hopkins Brocq

When I was 12, I remember my mother having problems to interact with our computer. She constantly complained about the problems she had with her eye-hand coordination when it came to moving the cursor or pointer. In other words, she had problems with the mouse. Looking back, I could now assume her discomfort was caused by a lack of cognitive skills to perform within that digital space which required a new approach to space, knowledge and movement.

My mother was not only a victim of unfamiliar cognition but also of basic perception. Briefly, in Merleau-Ponty’s relational structure of perception, the boundaries and relations between subject and object are not clearly mapped. According to Gayle Salamon, Merleau-Ponty’s construction of “the act of perception ruins the clean division between the body and the world in which that body is situated, and if my body can still be understood as mine, it cannot be thought as more proximate to me than the world through which my body moves.”[1] Therefore, perception is not the solidity and hapticality of the material but the act of extending, reaching and constructing our own knowledge of it. But in my mother’s case this did not happen and the mouse, as a tool for the perception of the “digital world”, was dislocated from her body. Caused by a cognitive disarticulation, the relational structure of perception was subverted as the distinction between body and that world was deeply grounded.

A few years ago, with the appearance of new haptic touch-based devices (for example tablets or interactive screens), this relationship and dynamic between my mother and gadgets started to change. The haptic perception is a complex perception in relation to touch, it can be a characteristic of images – haptic images – but it is also a tool used to develop new ways of interacting with devices. Adam Greenfield says that nowadays “[smartphones are]… able to provide so-called haptics or brief and delicately calibrated buzzes that simulate the sensation of pressing a physical button.”[2] But as we are currently witnessing, new uses of the haptic are more than a simple reaction to touch but complex ways of rendering cognition. Before this, the experience of touching was relegated and subjugated to visuality, but the haptic is now approaching the overlapping and co-shaping of and with other senses in a more tangible and evident way. The ‘synchronization of the senses’ and the ‘writings of synaesthesia’ that Sergei Eisenstein and later Vivian Sobchack explored are now being expanded by constructs beyond the audio-visual. Devices, platforms and their images are now converging performance, architecture, sculpture and bi-dimensional images in a multiple and continually varying interaction between what is now difficult to define as body, image and space.

On one side, now images are more complex and need the unbending of more body parts. To see an image is now to feel an image, perception is more evidently a relational structure. At the same time, the performative engagement with technology is going back to the body, looking into more ergonomic or bodily ways of interaction.

Now with more haptic technologies, my mother has an easier way approaching digital platforms, her performance with and within them respond better to cognitive languages she had already developed. The mouse is not there and the distance between body-screen are disappearing.

[1] Salamon, Gayle. 2010: 60

[2] Greenfield, Adam. 2017: 16


  • Greenfield, Adam. “Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life”. London: Verso, 2017
  • Marks, Laura U. “Video Haptics and Erotics”. Screen 39, 4, 1998
  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. “Phenomenology of Perception” London: Rouletge, 1962
  • Salamon, Gayle. “Assuming a Body : Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality”, Columbia University Press, 2010.
  • Sobchack, Vivian. “What My Fingers Knew: The Cinesthetic Subject, or Vision in the Flesh”

Featured Image: Courtesy of Nathalie Sinclair