I’ve been meaning to write about presence for some time, but Mark Childs beat me to it. I agree with a lot of his points, but disagree that immersion and presence are the same thing. Presence is only realised in relation to others, whereas immersion is a personal state/construct. I like Mark’s analogy in terms of being immersed in water; immersion is also an important aspect of ‘flow’.
So what is presence? Some dictionary definitions:
- The state or fact of being present; current existence or occurrence.
- Immediate proximity in time or space.
Neither of these really captures what I understand by presence. I think it is something more than this. This definition comes closer: ‘the bearing, carriage or air of a person; especially stately or distinguished bearing’.
I am interested in the difference between presence face-to-face and online. In a face-to-face context presence is related to a number of factors. It’s about someone’s aura, their stance. It might be that someone has presence because they are tall, attractive, have a deep voice or it might be related to their intellect. We have all experienced the feeling of being effected by someone, being very aware of them, feeling a connection with them on a sub-conscious level.
In the digital world presence is very different, it is conveyed primarily through text. Presence is channeled through your words and associated emoticons, etc. I often wonder how I am perceived online. What people make of the things I say, the pictures I post. What is my digital personality and how is it different from the way I interact face-to-face. As I said in my previous post I find online interactions liberating and different to the interactions I have with people face to face.
Of course technology plays a part. The affordances of different media enable or disenable certain types of interaction. So facebook is a good medium for sharing multimedia, Twitter requires you to speak in a certain way, with its limit of 140 characters. Virtual worlds provide a bridge to face-to-face interaction, via your avatar. The avatar you choose says something about you. Mine is very much the girl next door, with brown hair, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Although I must admit I also have very nice wings Don’t know what this avatar says about me. Our digital presence is fragmented across these different media. The collective self is a culmination of these individual utterances. The way I speak on my blog is different to the postings I put on facebook or Twitter. They have different purposes and audiences. So what does ‘presence’ mean in a digital context? I think it is about how you are perceived by others through your interaction with them. Presence only has meaning in relation to others. It’s a social construct. For some people you will have presence, for others you won’t. It is all to do with whether your interactions have meaning for others.