Rich iPresence

By Deborah Vrabel

Could Rich iPresence help you in becoming a thought leader in your sphere? In advocating effectively for an organization or cause you embrace? In simply telling a coherent, meaningful story of what matters to you professionally? Join me and find out.

The Web offers today’s writers, scholars, experts, and storytellers an unprecedented opportunity to be “present” as society’s problems are discussed and new ideas, trends, or models emerge and take shape. Those who can make their views stand out in this democratic but kaleidoscopic marketplace of ideas have a distinct advantage.

Think Pond will interrogate, examine, and critique this social media “revolution” from different angles and present the alternative–Rich iPresence.

I’ll share some observations about the theories and issues surrounding this concept of iPresence. I’ll comment on books and articles that raise new questions or shed light on our dialogue. I’ll try to engage Think Pond members and others in conversations. To be coherent, I’ll develop a position paper examining those issues that builds on my 1993 Master’s project, which explored the potential impact of what was then the brand new Web on the control and ownership of mass media.

Stemming from my own quest to integrate my “digital opus” and help some fledgling groups with theirs, this evolving white paper will offer some reflections, provide practical tools and ideas,and finally propose integrated strategies for using websites, choosing suitable social media avenues, and using other online media to create a coherent, meaningful, and useful online presence.

My Failed Attempts

Here is my ineffective pattern of using social media to advance my professional endeavors: 1) Try each new tool as it becomes available or is recommended to me and 2) spend inadequate time thinking about its usefulness for my purposes and learning to use it properly. The result? Lost opportunities, insubstantial traces of my ideas and writing scattered widely and serving no purpose.

Exploring the Term “iPresence”

How does putting the adjective “online” or the lowercase “i” in front of the noun “presence” change the meaning? What is carried over from our past use of the word—and what connotations do I want to keep and discard?

I think “presence” has three distinct connotations. I’m going to explore them as a way to “deconstruct” the term “iPresence.” (Apologies to Derrida if I’ve used this term incorrectly.)

How does putting the adjective “online” or the lowercase “i” in front of the noun “presence” change the meaning? What is carried over from our past use of the word—and what connotations do I want to keep and discard?

I think “presence” has three distinct connotations. I’m going to explore them as a way to “deconstruct” the term “iPresence.” (Apologies to Derrida if I’ve used this term incorrectly.)

A Woody Allen quote captures the most literal meaning of presence: “80% of life is showing up.” The teacher calls your name and you raise your hand and say “Present!” Whatever your academic preparedness or intentions to participate, you have cleared the first hurdle. You are there. Sometimes that simple kind of presence—being there with no distinction, no defined role, nothing unique to say or do—is all that is needed or required. You show up—you smile and congratulate and stand among the wedding guests in one solid block of love and support for a couple starting their journey together. Even if your mind is a million miles away and your mood is anything but festive, you have helped make this memory for them.

Second, presence has come to mean “attentiveness” or “mindfulness.” When we are present to someone, we are more than present physically. We also listen carefully and notice even the tiniest things. We are invested. We are “in the moment.” We “witness and wait” as Walt Whitman said. We are present when we are doing what we are supposed to be doing.

A similar kind of presence, also called “presence of mind,” speaks to the ability to think quickly and respond appropriately and competently when something unexpected happens—whether a threatening situation, an awkward moment, or a good opportunity. I think Leo Tolstoy’s Three Questions (which are embedded in the Think Pond concept) show the thinking of someone with this type of presence:

  • When is the best time to do each thing? (Answer: The most important time is now. The present is the only time over which we have power.)
  • Who are the most important people to work with? (Answer: The most important person is whoever you are with.)
  • What is the most important thing to do at all times? (Answer: The most important thing is to do good to the person you are with.)

Finally, presence is used to describe an outward demeanor some people have that enables them to capture and hold attention and admiration. Ask ten people to think of someone they know who has “presence” and describe that person in one word or phrase, and you could easily receive several different answers:

“lights up a room” … “commands attention” … “star quality” … “elegant” … “poised” … “shows grace under pressure” … “unruffled.”

I would contend that part of what gives them this demeanor is the inner quality of attentiveness, as described above, along with self-confidence, purpose, and inner strength.

I think all of these are relevant to iPresence.

Implications for Think Ponds

Clearly, Think Pond Enterprises needs to be “there” in the social media milieu. And “showing up” needs to be more than just setting up that web site or blog, signing up for that account, and reposting other people’s writing.

Think Pond has to show up with meaning and over time. How many times have you heard the plea “Like us on Facebook” and then found a page that serves no discernible purpose and seldom changes? I know I have created a couple of those.

Our network of Think Ponds needs to cultivate the “attentive and mindful” kind of presence I described, as well. That means learning from others, commenting on other people’s work thoughtfully, noticing things and making our own conclusions. It means being relevant–which is impossible without paying attention to what’s going on around you–both online and off-line–and taking your opportunity to jump in and participate.

And that will help with developing the last kind of presence–that ineffable quality that people admire and find reassuring. If Think Ponds consistently practice the other two types of iPresence, we’ll have that voice that commands attention, that always seems poised for anything. We’ll be well on the way to Rich iPresence.

Qualities of Rich iPresence

What qualities make iPresence more like what could be called “real human presence”–being with the audience both physically and mentally, both giving and commanding attention?

Still, we need to stay aware that our iPresence is a virtual human presence existing in a virtual reality. It doesn’t happen the same way life happens. We create it out of the stuff of who we are and what we do. It is a combination of artistry, artifact, and artifice.

Artifice. When I talk about “artifice,” I don’t mean setting out to deceive other people by creating content that is patently false, as in “catfishing” on Facebook or creating deceptive pop-up windows. By artifice, I mean purposefully playing the games that sustain the illusion of the Web as more than a technology. Most of us accept the premise of making believe that this virtual commons is really a place where real communities gather. Then we promptly forget and never accept the need to do the work of community or sometimes even observe the rules and courtesies of community.

Rich iPresence means conveying awareness that we are placing our lives, our ideas, our opinions, our work “someplace” and that doing so matters. It asks: Where does my content belong?

Artifact. While iPresence as “artifice” focuses on where we are placing our content–what kind of context we are entering and producing online, “artifact” refers to the trail of individual pieces of textual and visual information we place online. Everything posted online by individuals, whether original or something recycled, becomes a cultural and historical artifact.

Rich iPresence is more than feeding the companies and industries that have the computing power to analyze trends and patterns for commercial purposes and providing free content to the aggregators. It means we think about the message we want these artifacts to convey–both individually and collectively. It means the pieces we place online have unity and coherence. It asks: How long and hard would someone need to work before gaining reasonably accurate picture of me and/or my organization as an online presence? Are we handing them a well-executed scrapbook or a hodgepodge of loosely connected snapshots? Will exploring our organization’s online presence be like a well-organized tour of a historical site or more like picking through old items in a thrift shop hoping to find something unique or valuable?

Artistry. While artifacts carry knowledge and convey history, “artistry” provides original ideas and a glimpse of soul.

Rich iPresence asserts that the “content” we produce through human thought and inquiry must be more valuable than the widgets and images and design elements we use to frame it. It means thinking about not only clearing a path for people to follow but also making meaning. It asks: Does my digital opus illuminate the purpose and meaning of my experiences, passions, contributions, and qualities? Are we populating web pages or living up to the vision of a global village? Are we grabbing attention for a moment or engaging minds?