A Really Good Pair of Glasses: An Analysis of the Concept of Presence in the Context of Communication Technology
The colloquial understanding of presence is physical presence, such as when we are in the same room. Most day-to-day communication is done in the physical presence of those with whom we communicate, if we define communication as a focussed linguistic exchange between two or more persons. But communication technology of any kind disconnects the physical presence of a thing from its presence to my perception. Thanks to the telephone and related technologies, and instant messaging, a person can communicate with similar speeds to someone in a different building or planet-sized distances away. Slower speeds of communication have long been possible, not only through e-mail or its predecessor the telegraph, but through the postal service. One could say that this phenomenon is the ‘shrinking’ of the world, or the acceleration of communicative life to previously unheard-of dangerous speeds (Ie. Virilio on speed of life in Open Sky). This is to confuse physical presence with presence in perception. Only in face-to-face communication is there no distinction between these concepts in describing the phenomenon. One has instead increased the range of one’s perception through technological aid, such that, for example by talking to my friend in Dalian via instant messager I can better perceive him, just as with his telescope Galileo could better perceive the planet Jupiter. This paper will analyse how one is present to another in communication via technological means. The analysis of presence indicates that contemporary communication technology does not put us at the beginning of a new epoch, as the above-referenced Virilio says. Our new communication technology is a recent articulation of a desire that has always existed in the human species: To make present what would otherwise be absent.
Keywords: Communication, Presence, Perception
Graduate Student, Faculty of Arts