Tag Archives: iPresence

Is “Rich” iPresence Possible?

By Deborah Vrabel

Books relevant to the topic of Rich iPresence have been central in my reading this month. I just finished four that affirmed the concerns I expressed about fragmentation but also made me examine this project more critically.

The books:

  • Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us by Andrew Keen (2012)
  • The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicolas Carr (2010)
  • You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier (2010)
  • Mindless: Why Smarter Machines are Making Dumber Humans by Simon Head (2014)
  • The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in A World of Constant Connection by Michael Harris (2014)
  • Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle (2011)

Each of these authors warns that we underestimate the extent to which information technology shapes and controls our minds, individuality, relationships, economy, and culture. Reading them made me question whether iPresence could be rich at all.

Andrew Keen is an early Internet entrepreneur, the executive director of the Silicon Valley salon FutureCast, and the author of The Cult of the Amateur. He says we are trading our precious privacy and solitude for the empty status symbol of social media visibility. Heavy social media users, he says, are like “lab rats, constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.” Those who are adding content to Facebook are not the site’s customers, he says. They are the product it sells to advertisers and marketers who want the personal data we readily provide for free.

Lanier is a pioneer in the field of virtual reality who has witnessed the rise of Silicon Valley firsthand. He says the predominant digital culture marginalizes authorship at the cost of individuality and creativity. He says the Web is dominated by “derivative expression” instead of work that is “genuinely new in the world.”

Carr is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who has published books and articles on technology, business, and culture. He says heavy use of online media reprograms the brain making it better at scanning and surfing but diminishing concentration, depth, memory. “When we go online,” he says, “we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.”

Head is an Associate Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford and a Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. His focus is on the systems being used to monitor and measure workers, but he also spotlights how technology is being used to devalue the capabilities and experience of workers and middle managers, increasing economic inequality.

Turkle is the director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self and a licensed clinical psychologist. Her central idea is that we are reaching a point in history she calls “the robotic moment.” People are gaining emotional and philosophical readiness to “consider robots as potential friends, confidants, and even romantic partners,” a time when “the performance of connection seems connection enough.”

Harris is a journalist (or, as his magazine began to call him as it shifted from print to digital, a “content creator”). He calls attention to the fact that those of us born before 1985 will be the only people in history to know what it was like both before and after the Internet. Therefore, we are responsible to ask “What will we carry forward?” and “What worthy things might we thoughtlessly leave behind?” His central answer to the second question is that we may end up paying a high price for “the loss of lack, the end of absence.”

These thoughtful, well-researched works challenge me to think more deeply about how I and others who see the Web as an opportunity to express original ideas, engage in complex dialogue, and learn can counteract the negative side effects the authors reveal. Making iPresence “rich” may not be the road to fame and revenues, but I now believe it’s a worthy endeavor.

iPresence: Artistry, Artifact, Artifice

By Deborah Vrabel

In the last post for Rich iPresence, I talked about similarities between iPresence and what we might call “real human presence”–when we or our organizations are 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?

The Multidimensional Meaning of “Presence

By Deborah Vrabel

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. Clearly, Think Pond 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.

Think Pond 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 Pond consistently practices 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.

Join the iPresence Renovation

By Deborah Vrabel for Rich iPresence

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. So for the next few weeks, I’m going to do an iPresence “rehab” project.

I’ll start by:

  • Reclaiming the fragments of my identity littering the social media landscape
  • Retracing and picking up the unfinished threads of thought I’ve left on abandoned blogs and pages.
  • Reconsidering the groups I’ve joined and quickly forgotten.
  • Revisiting the profile pages I’ve never completed.

Next, I’ll enlist some experts and fellow social media wanderers in mapping out more integrated strategies for establishing and maintaining the practices needed to make good use of online media. My goal will be to develop a “digital opus” that matters to me.

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.

What is Rich iPresence?

By Deborah Vrabel for Rich iPresence

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 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, I’ll provide some practical tools and ideas–and finally a white paper proposing integrated strateges–for using websites, choosing suitable social media avenues, and using other online media to create a coherent, meaningful, and useful online presence.

Explore the iPresence Topic

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