Talking Face to Face is a networked communication system that detects the position of two users in relation to each other anywhere on the globe. Using a combination of GPS and a compass, the audio output is modified to create the sensation of the voice’s position and proximity to the listener. If Bob is in NYC and Sarah is in LA, their voices would sound relatively distant to each other. Bob would face west and Sarah would face east so their voices would sound as if they were facing each other. If Bob turns away, Sarah’s voice would sound like they were no longer facing each other. As Bob and Sarah turn their positions the voice they hear will gain reverb, volume, and other effects to simulate their relative presence in a spacial environment.
We are curious beings that need and want confirmation of our existence and presence. We like to explore, yet we want to stay at home. We yearn for freedom, difference and change, yet we find comfort in familiarity. I believe it’s this dilemma that telepresence aims to solve.
The presence stack:
Physical sensory input of a moment,
channeled through nerve paths to the brain,
processed and compared to a set of memories of the sensation,
judgments constructed on the presence of the sensation or the realness of the input,
and predictions constructed of the next sensation.
Is what i see, smell, feel, hear, or taste, real? is it out of the ordinary? What is real and not real? Is this moment not the moment I expected to follow the last moment?
Presence deals with and persists in change. Our presence cannot be static. Presence cannot remain in the past or exist in the future. We can only continuously observe and predict changes within our current moment based on our past experiences.
Being present is a combination of sensations that confirm our prediction of where we are spatially and mentally. If I were to sense or experience a moment that is out of the ordinary and a magnitude beyond what I expect, I would question the reality of my environment in that moment. In other words, if my prediction of the near future is shattered by an extraordinary experience outside my threshold of reality, my presence comes into question. For example, if I were to approach my sink and turn on my faucet and nothing comes out, something unexpected has happened, but I’ve had similar experiences in the past, so I can imagine what had gone wrong and find a solution. On the other hand, if I go to turn on the faucet and butterflies fly out, the presence of the faucet in my reality or my presence in this reality would be questioned. Is that real? Is this real? Could this be happening now? Am I dreaming?
We are often willing to accept the presence of other people with only a fraction or glimpse of their entire presence. I often mistake a mannequin in my peripheral vision as a real person, only to be surprised when a closer look reveals its lifelessness. I can also fool myself into believe I’m somewhere else no matter how hard I try to resist when I listen to binaural recordings of a previous space and time. We are willing to complete the picture for ourselves because we try to match previous experiences to our current experience to predicting how our environment should be. Could implied presence by a mannequin persist over a long period of time? Can audio input be so convincing that we question our mismatched vision?
In each confirmation of another’s presence, i think we are looking for life. Is the other alive? The classic horror movie scenario of walking down a hall of medieval armor statues questions how we determine the presence of another being. Is someone wearing the armor and standing very still, or is it empty and lifeless? The presence of a ghost or prankster is only confirmed when something moves. Or is that enough? If their axe drops to the ground, would we assume someone deliberately dropped the axe, or did the shifting of my weight on the creaking floors cause the accident? Would a glimpse of a pair of eyes confirm our suspicions of someone’s presence? Would the sound or smell of someone’s breath convince us? Whether it is a single clue or a combination of movement, sight and sound, we are looking for a confirmation of life.
If I follow my brother into a dark basement, i would continually feel his presence no matter how dark or silent the room may be. Even if he didn’t respond to me calling his name, i would still expect him to be there when i turn the lights on. Perhaps he’s ignoring me or playing a game with me. It would be a hard stretch in our imagination and a break in our reality if we turned the lights on and he was nowhere to be found. Perhaps I would even search for him in the basement behind the shelves and behind the boxes. Without some indication of him exiting the basement like the sound of the door closing or the sound of his footsteps, his presence is automatically completed by a single instance of his existence before we entered the basement. Our imagination wants to complete our senses to detect his presence.
We want presence and will stretch our imagination to detect presence.