Showing ‘digital’ objects in web-based video chats as a collaborative achievement

Laura RosenbaunChristian Licoppe
University of Haifa, Israel | Telecom ParisTech, France


Showing material objects by bringing them to the camera or turning the camera toward them are pervasive practices in domestic and recreational video-mediated communication (VMC). We here discuss a set of specific showing practices characteristic of digitally embedded video-mediated settings, which may be called ‘digital showings’. These involve participants’ collaboration to retrieve a digital object so as to ensure a shared perceptual experience on screen of said object. We draw on data from multiparty Google Hangouts On Air (HOAs) to show that while digital and material showings share an overall sequential organization, the former display the emergence of unique collaborative practices that at times become collective performances of computer literacy. We focus on three instances of digital showings: (a) screenshares of pictures – showing an image by sharing one’s screen; (b) screenshares of videos – showing a running video by sharing one’s screen; and (c) link-share showings – showing by sharing the link to a showable content that may be independently retrieved while experienced jointly.

Table of contents

Pragmatics  27:3 (2017), pp. 419–446. ISSN 1018-2101 | E-ISSN 2406-4238

© John Benjamins Publishing Company

Showing sequences in which co-participants make accessible to others a given behavior, person, or detail in their environment, are a common practice in domestic and recreational video-mediated communication (VMC). We use the notion of ‘showing’ as an umbrella term to gloss a set of practices through which some particular feature of the environment that is initially unequally available in perceptual terms to all co-participants, is made into a relevant ‘showable’ and manipulated so as to be reshaped into a joint focus of attention. Leveling the visual field and redressing the inequality in perceptual access is a core feature of ‘showings’. It is this manipulative work or ‘placing’ objects in a common perceptual field (Clark 2003) and the access imbalance it indexes what differentiates ‘showing’ from ‘pointing’. In the latter, the relevant feature (the ‘pointable’) is often presumed to be available in the environment (Kita 2003). However, as interactional achievements, pointing and showing practices display a resemblance: (a) both are embodied, multimodal practices in which material features in the environment are turned into interactional resources; (b) even in pointing, some orientation work is often needed to ensure the pointed feature becomes a joint focus of attention; and (c) the embodied work involved in pointing (Goodwin 2003; Heath & Von Lehn 2004), as well as that involved in showing (Licoppe & Morel, 2014), are co-emergent and mutually elaborated along the concurrent talk-in-interaction.

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