Presence: When media mimics real life

Academics from around the world converged in Philadelphia in October to further examine how media can mimic real-life interactions.

Temple University was the site of Presence Live 2012, an annual conference hosted by the International Society for Presence Research (ISPR).

“Presence, short for telepresence, happens when people use technology and overlook at least part of its role in the experience, as when a telepresence conferencing system makes us feel as if we’re face-to-face,” explains Temple School of Media and Communication Associate Professor Matthew Lombard, president of ISPR.

Lombard was one of the first to identify presence through his graduate work at Stanford University. He wrote “At the heart of it all: The concept of presence” with Theresa Ditton, MMC ’97, in 1997, a work that has been cited by many scholars.

Researchers have identified two types of presence—spatial and social.

Through spatial presence, people experience the illusion that they are actually in a virtual environment. However, more and more attention is now being focused on social presence, “the illusion that the people and avatars and characters you see, hear and interact with via technology are real and really there with you,” Lombard says. “And that’s arguably the more important kind of presence for us to understand, as SMS, social media, Skype, tablets and high-end telepresence products like Cisco’s increasingly offer people almost any way of interacting with people that they want. We need to understand what characteristics of these technologies, and their users and uses, drive those choices.”

A panel on social presence was awarded the conference’s top paper award: “Considerations for Social Presence Theory, Research and Application in the 21st Century,” with Paul Skalaki, David Westerman and Stephanie Kelly of Cleveland State University.

As part of the conference, attendees toured several presence sites around Philadelphia, including Temple University’s Virtual Environment and Postural Orientation Laboratory, where they experienced “The Cave.”

Watch this video to learn more about the conference and one of the ways presence plays a role at Temple.

video by Ryan Geffert