Abstract

As our lives become increasingly dominated by mediated experiences, presence scholars have noted that an increasing number of these mediated experiences evoke (tele)-presence, perceptions that ignore or misconstrue the role of the medium in the experience. In this paper we explore an interesting countertrend that seems to be occurring as well. In a variety of contexts, people are experiencing not an illusion that a mediated experience is in fact nonmediated, but the illusion that a nonmediated “real” experience is mediated. Drawing on news reports and an online survey, we identify 3 categories of this “illusion of mediation”: positive (when people perceive natural beauty as mediated), negative (when people perceive a disaster, crime, or other tragedy such as the events of September 11, 2001, as mediated), and unusual (when close connections between people's “real life” activities and mediated experiences lead them to confuse the former with the latter). We label this phenomenon inverse presence and consider its place and value in a comprehensive theory of presence, its possible antecedents and consequences, and what it suggests about the nature of our lives in the 21st century.

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