Surrogates of Interaction and the Impact of Presence
As a farewell-gift when leaving my job a colleague gave me a book about men over 80 telling about their lives. I’m reading it with fascination as a bedtime book, impressed about the variety and intensity of their paths.
I’m just reading the story of an architect / biologist explaining in a vivid way his experiences and reflections about how machines and electronics are controlling us instead of the other way round. He gives examples of how we subordinate our thoughts and our will-to-form to the conditions of the computer screen, how the connections of the brain-currents in the nerves are cut off from the movements of the hand with a pencil, how a sensuousness gets lost and loud slogans without much content come at the place of deeper content and quality, which are more inconspicuous and self-evident. The way he describes his experiences as an architect when constructing a landscape park in Zurich show that he is a keen observer, a passionate maker and shaper and isn’t just plunging into a critique of the present.
It made me think of how the electronic media have shaped my life and inter-relations. For the last 12 years I have been professionally active in digital communication and have actively taken part in shaping and developing it in my surroundings, with the development of websites, social media channels, the management of digital documents and media, with newsletters and extensive writing. I am handling a lot of communication and inter-relations with these tools – quantities and kinds of relations which otherwise wouldn’t be possible, especially on a global scale.
However, I note that many of these relations are very abstract, confined to short exchanges – a short “hello”, requests or giving some information and help to people, often in some remote corners of the planet. The keyboard is the main instrument, linked to the PC with its screen. There is little physical interrelation. Even the more concrete interactions via phone or Skype are reducing the interaction to an acoustic or sometimes visual transmission. With some persons I feel the presence of their being, even through these channels; they are like physically here. Mostly it is a thin, vague interaction, not even demanding much attention, probably not even with much impact.
At the same time there is such a flooding of information, seeking attention. The day before yesterday I answered a friend who sent me an article from a German newspaper, telling him: “I sometimes don’t know how to help myself with all the many interesting articles, statements etc. I don’t get around to read them; if I would do so, there wouldn’t be any-more time for the essentials. So I got today this long (“wonderful to read”) article, see enclosed. If you like and have time for it, you can read it…” I felt a bit snippy, answering flooding with flooding: “Similia similibus curentur” – curing by using the simile. Does it really cure or is it a “placebo”?
When I hear someone saying “I don’t have time…” I always hear “I don’t want to give my attention / energy to…” So when someone says, “I don’t have time for visiting / phoning / writing you”, it says, “I can’t give my energy to visiting / phoning / writing you.” It’s ok, attention is a rare source, and there are enough energy-vampires around, making us feel depleted – the whole rush and pressure of our lifestyle. When I put a “like” or a short comment on Facebook, it’s like a surrogate of communication – showing, that I thought of the other, but at the same time keeping it low-level, non-committal. I seem to be there, but without much of my presence. So there remains a void.
There are so many Facebook birthday posts and mails coming in today – my living room would have be full to accommodate so many “friends”. But there is no-one – and it would be difficult with all the cakes…. E-mails often have a higher intensity, and more so real letters do. But the amount of letters decreases – just one came – and e-mails are more easily to dissolve with a “delete”.
How deep is an impact? I somehow sense whether there is a presence behind and how profound it is. Presence is a strange phenomenon, it has to do with energy. When you feel the touch of the heart, then there is the presence. When there is just a digital whirring, it’s just a mask of the presence. Presence and attention seem to be inter-related. I wonder how I will manage the upcoming flood of Christmas and New Years greetings. I decided to invest some time in phone-calls instead of non-committal copy-paste of “warm regards” or Merry-Christmas-postings. The Christmas-marketing in the city and the media will soon be over again. The flame of inner presence hopefully not.
3 birds “twittering” in our garden this morning