I have lived in San Francisco while working as a full-time virtual faculty member for Michigan State University for nearly six years. Unlike most humans, I spend a larger proportion of every day as a virtual person than as a physical person. This article is adapted from a keynote speech I delivered at the Fourth International Workshop on Presence in Philadelphia in May of 2001. I use a personal narrative style to explore issues and to question some of the research community's prevailing assumptions about presence.
Lombard and Ditton's (1997) frequently cited conceptualization defines presence as a “perceptual illusion of nonmediation” that occurs “when a person fails to perceive or acknowledge the existence of a medium in his/her communication environment and responds as he/she would if the medium were not there.” The underlying assumption is that, in the absence of technology, everyone experiences continuous presence at a constant intensity throughout their lives.
Instead, this article suggests that presence is not a constant of everyday nonmediated experience. Careful consideration of unmediated (real) presence might help the conceptualization and study of mediated presence.