Faculty Work in Progress series discusses emotional interactions with new media

T. Kenny Fountain, assistant professor of Case Western Reserve University’s Department of English, will kick off this year’s Baker-Nord Center for Humanities’ Faculty Work in Progress series with the talk “Affective Circuits: Networks of Feeling in the Flesh of New Media.” He addresses the emotional and embodied interactions people have with new media technology.

The program begins with a reception on Thursday, Sept. 22, at 4:15 p.m., followed by Fountain’s talk at 4:30 p.m., in Clark Hall 206.

Programs like the Works in Progress series spotlight new research endeavors by humanities faculty members who are working in areas related to this year’s theme.

Baker-Nord’s 2011-12 program theme is “Celebrity, Fame and the Concept of Genius.”

As Fountain points out, engineers, designers and the public have used biological and anatomical language to define information technology since it’s beginning, from “computer virus” to “autonomic network.”

Building from this, Fountain suggests that our interaction with new media can be understood through a kind of neurological language, marked by pathways of feeling, sensation, and resulting affects and actions. These physical interactions form an emotional and affective loop, or “affective circuit,” which makes possible our experience of new media as well as how that experience is represented by the technology itself.

“When someone blogs about sadness, it doesn’t mean they are sad but merely expressing sadness by way of technology,” he noted, distinguishing between feeling and the performance of feeling.

By exploring affect in both the psychological sense of emotions and the philosophical sense of forces that exert an influence on bodies, Fountain’s larger research project seeks to understand the bodily interactions and embodied connections formed between the human user and the technological object.

His talk will focus specifically on two new media works which profess to examine our emotional engagement with technology by capturing and presenting these emotional experiences: Immersion by Robbie Cooper and We Feel Fine by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar.

Immersion is a video work that captures the verbal and facial expressions and emotional engagement of video gamers playing their favorite games. Through a camera placed on the other side of the TV screen, Cooper’s gamers seem to be interacting and emoting with us by way of the game.

We Feel Fine is an online site that uses an algorithm to data mine blog posts, collecting and cataloguing online expressions of emotion and sensation. Whenever a blogger uses the words “feel” or “feeling,” We Feel Fine anonymously harvests those sentences and any images posted along side them.

Those attending Fountain’s talk will have an opportunity to view selections from both new media works.