The era of the user. Testimonies in the digital age

In her seminal work, ‘The era of the witness’, the French historian Annette Wieviorka has described the rise of the witness as key figure in the cultural memory of the Holocaust and the Second World War since the 1960s. This article elaborates on the concerns Wieviorka has expressed regarding what she referred to as the new technologies of dissemination, which have become ubiquitous by now: searchable online portals to video testimony collections. These testimony portals have two important characteristics: they ‘force’ users to choose from a large number of testimonies; and they reconfigure the relation between witness and audience. In effect, as will be argued with as will be argued with the notion tertiary witnessing, a different approach to testimonies has emerged, in which the user is central, not the witness. An online questionnaire and the web statistics of the online portal (‘eyewitness stories’) provided data on the use of this portal and users’ perceptions of eyewitness accounts. These data not only offer detailed information on the important issues Wieviorka addressed. They also substantiate the notion that we have entered a new phase in public memory of the Holocaust and the Second World War: that of the ‘era of the user’.