Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Caroline Nevejan: Presence and the Design of Trust
Patrice Riemens on Thu, 29 Mar 2007 15:17:32 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Caroline Nevejan: Presence and the Design of Trust

Caroline Nevejan, long years of Paradiso, co-founder, and formerly
director of the Waag Society (for Old and New Media), both in Amsterdam
then senior advisor to the college of regents of the Amsterdam
Polytechnic, will defend her PhD thesis, titled "Presence and the Design
of Trust" on April 11, at the University of Amsterdam.

The whole thesis is downloadable at http://www.nevejan.org
This is the summary:


Presence and the Design of Trust
Dissertation by Caroline Nevejan
Promotor: Prof.Dr. Cees Hamelink
Co-promotor: Dr. Sally Wyatt

Designing presence in environments in which technology plays a crucial
role is critical in the current era when social systems like law,
education, health and business all face major challenges about how to
guarantee trustworthy, safe, reliable and efficient services in which
people interact with, and via, technology. The speed and scale of the
collection and distribution of information that is facilitated by
technology today demands a new formulation of basic concepts for our
modern societies in terms of property, copyright, privacy, liability,
responsibility and so forth. The research question assumes that presence
is a phenomenon that we have to understand much better than we currently

The title of this dissertation ?Presence and the Design of Trust? reflects
the inspiration as well as the outcome of the research that is presented
here. The research itself was focused on the design of presence. The
question that guided the study was ?How can presence be designed in
environments in which technology plays a crucial role??. I argue that
presence as a phenomenon is influenced by technology, and that social
structures that rely on presence will therefore be affected by technology
as well. One of the major findings is the fact that the design of presence
relates to the design of trust in social interaction. This study does not
elaborate on trust as such but it establishes the connection between the
design of presence and the design of trust.

In this study presence is understood as a phenomenon that is part of human
interaction. The nature of being with another person in a certain place,
at a certain time, involved in a certain action is undergoing change
because of the fact that technology mediates, contributes, accelerates,
controls and/or facilitates communication. The broad spectrum of
information and communication technologies that mediate presence
facilitates acting, connecting, witnessing and being witnessed in other
places at other times.

While conducting the research I found that I needed to make trust
operational from the pragmatic and normative perspective of individual
human beings. I have chosen to use the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights as it was was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10
December 1948 (United Nations, 1948). Even though the universality of the
declaration has been contested since 1948, the text constitutes the only
secular instrument that has functioned for over 50 years as a normative
reference point for the quality of well-being of people around the world.
It is part of the international political discourse as a mechanism of
protection for human dignity as well as a tool of empowerment that helps
people to realize their rights and articulate their suffering. Information
and communication technologies have an impact on the realization of Human
Rights (Hamelink 2000). I have taken the position that for trust to
develop human rights have to be respected. The fact that human beings act
to secure their survival and their well-being will prove to be crucial in
constructing the argument that I present here. Therefore the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights has been chosen as the essential normative
perspective for the quality of social interaction, and thus for the
potential building or breaking down of trust.

?Presence and the Design of Trust? is based on the analysis of two
exploratory case studies of networked events, the Galactic Hacker Party
and the Seropositive Ball, which took place in Amsterdam in 1989 and 1990
respectively, and in which I was personally involved as initiator and
producer. A networked event entails a gathering of people in a physical
space, and also these people and others who are not actually present in
the same physical space gather together in an online environment. This
study draws upon multiple sources, and it uses literature and
methodologies from a variety of disciplines, and in this regard this study
has chosen social theory as its context (Giddens 1984).

When I commenced this academic study I had already conducted extensive
research into the design of presence from a variety of non--academic
perspectives and professional roles. I wanted to bring to the surface the
implicit knowledge that I had acquired throughout the course of these
experiences. I identified three research concepts that helped me to embed
the earlier non--academic work into this academic study: parresia (Foucault
1983), text laboratory (Latour 2005) and techno--biography (Henwood et al
2001). Parresia, a concept that was elaborated upon by the Greeks in the
classical era, involves the revealing of truth through a process of
revealing truth to oneself. The text laboratory aims to contribute to
social sciences by doing experiments through rigorous writing and
describing, which triggers new writing and describing, to reveal
unexpected links and connections. In a techno--biography the researcher
analyses the former self, possibly with the help of original texts written
by the former self and/or archives and artefacts from that time.

Both in the data gathering and in the analysis these three concepts, and
the classical features of an exploratory case study (Yin 2003), have been
interwoven into one iterative research design, which has facilitated my
professionally acquired knowledge to contribute to the academic context of
this study. As a result, this study proposes a conceptual framework to
support the analysis and the design of presence in social interaction.

The amazing acceptance of the variety of technologies that facilitate the
mediation of presence and generate the multiple presences that people are
confronted with in their day--to--day lives is taken as a starting point for
this study. It appears that the "presence" of the other person and the
"presence" of one self can be mediated in such a way that this is accepted
or rejected as "real" presence within the context of social interaction.
After discussing the current research into presence in the military, in
industry, in the commercial realm, in the arts and in European policy
making, I have concluded that presence research is a science of trade--offs
(IJsselteijn 2004), and presence design is characterized by trade--offs as
well. In the trade--off of presence design I have identified three basic
dynamics that interact, construct and confuse the sense of presence of the
self and also the sense of presence of other human beings. Natural
presence, mediated presence and witnessed presence (which occurs in
natural and also mediated presence) each trigger certain dynamics and
influence the perception and understanding of the other presences.

A communication process that uses multiple presences is not a linear
process. Time, space, action and the meeting of other people continually
alter the shape of the process. Through the different configurations an
image of the situation emerges, upon which a person will base his, or her,
next actions. Any perceived presence, mediated or not, can mark a moment
of significance in a chain of events or in a communication process.
Therefore, at the start of this study I harboured the assumption that all
presences and their hybrids may be equally significant to a human being in
orchestrating his or her life. This assumption has been severely
challenged by the research I carried out. I first formulated these three
presence dynamics more profoundly and these are summarized below.

Natural presence: the quest for well-being and the drive for survival
A human being"s body, which is present at a certain moment in a certain
place, defines its natural presence and this is perceived by the body
itself and/or its environment. Human beings strive for well--being and
survival; they want to avoid pain. This process takes place on three
levels of consciousness (proto, core and extended consciousness), from the
level of the cell to the organism as a whole (Damasio 1999). The sense of
presence is part of human evolution and plays a crucial role in helping
people to survive; it helps to distinguish between the self and the
environment, between the different relationships in the environment and
between imaginary events and what is actually happening. On each level of
consciousness the sense of presence operates. When all levels of
consciousness collaborate a maximum sense of presence is the result (Riva,
Waterworth and Waterworth 2004). People make a trade--off between the
multiple presences they perceive when constructing the reality upon which
they will act. The claim that technology enhances the quality of natural
presence is as viable as the claim that it is threatened by technology.
The "new" confusion between perception and deception, between truth and
lies, between real and unreal in societies where technology is embedded
and media are everywhere influences people"s natural presence profoundly.

Mediated presence: transcending boundaries of time and place
Human beings have been mediating presence for as long as humankind has
existed. When they are moving around people leave trails of footprints,
shelters and other signs that they "have been here". For centuries people
have mediated presence consciously by telling stories, making drawings,
sending messengers and writing books. Via technology people can now
mediate their presence to other places in real time. Via radio, mobile
phones, Internet and TV we perceive other people"s presence in a variety
of ways. In this study I do not focus on the media--industry and the way it
operates; I focus on social interaction between people from the
perspective of an individual human being. Even when it is possible to meet
in real life, people regularly choose the partial perception of another
person that mediated presence offers. In mediated presence one does not
have to use all senses and one does not have to address the cognitive,
emotional and social structures that usually have to be confronted in a
physical encounter.

Through using information and communication technologies people develop
media schemata that help them to operate and understand the machines, help
them to accept the mediated presence of other people and help them to
distinguish the one "agreed" reality from the other. Media schemata are
particular to a certain time and place, to a certain generation of people
and to different social groups. When involved in mediated presence,
processes of attribution, synchronization and adaptation take place all
the time (Steels 2006). Because the senses have limited input and output
in mediated presence -- it is not the context but generally the connection
itself that matters -- these processes of attribution, synchronization and
adaptation can become very powerful.

Witnessed presence is a catalyst for good and bad
The perceived presence of other human beings plays a crucial role in the
social organization of communities in natural presence as well as of
communities in mediated presence. Witnessed presence influences natural
presence and mediated presence. An action that is witnessed becomes a
deed. That is why "witnessing" is an important action in social life.
Witnessing, being witnessed and witness reports are part of the
negotiation of trust and truth between people in communities,
organizations and societies. Throughout evolution people have changed
shape in each other"s eyes. "The other" has acquired more and more
identities over time. In general terms it is clear that the variety of
divisions of labour, the development of science and technology,
urbanization and globalisation have changed how people perceive each

A crucial distinction in the diversity of other human beings we perceive
is between those who we have a relationship with and those we do not know
(Buber 1923). The relationship that we have, or do not have, with another
person defines how we will orchestrate our own presence. I argue that
witnessing the presence of other people, as well as being witnessed,
influences the sense of presence of the self. Witnessed presence causes an
acceleration in what occurs next; it can generate more that is "good" and
also more that is "bad". It functions as a catalyst.

BALL (1990) (Chapters 3 and 4 and 5)
The Galactic Hacker Party explored "The Computer as a Tool for Democracy"
and connected the international hacker practice to scientific and
political debates about the evolving information society. The Seropositive
Ball was about "Living with HIV and AIDS" and aimed to shatter the silence
and social exclusion surrounding people living with HIV and AIDS, for
which there was not yet a cure at the time, while many young people were
dying. The Seropositive Ball connected Dutch national and international
political movements, self--help organizations, health institutions, policy
makers, artists, scientists, people in hospitals and many who were touched
by or concerned about AIDS. In the Galactic Hacker Party electronic
networks that already existed and the fledgling Internet were used and
demonstrated. The Seropositive Ball utilised a variety of media and
created its own network, which was also linked to existing networks.

Both networked events were produced and staged by Paradiso, a music venue
with a distinct international reputation located in the heart of
Amsterdam. Over the years Paradiso has developed a methodology, which I
will discuss in this study, whereby it nurtures the direct experience of
the artist as well as that of the audience. When organizing a networked
event, in which a new sense of place is meant to come into existence,
dramaturgical laws not only have to be applied to performance elements of
the show, but also to the possible contributions of participants in the
networked event. They will influence what happens and invent things that
cannot be foreseen.

The basic dynamic of both events was influenced by the experience of
multiple presences in Paradiso and of mediated presence for people outside
Paradiso. Natural presence and also mediated presence were witnessed.
Natural presence, witnessed presence and mediated presence were perceived
in connection with each other, and in the experience of the event these
presences "merged" and influenced the "reality" of the other experienced

By focusing on brief moments of perception and by drawing on my experience
as the producer of these events, through acts of parresia and the writing
in the text laboratory, which was then contrasted with the more than 2000
documents that were archived in a techno--biographical manner, I conducted
an analysis from four different perspectives. A primary analysis consists
of reflections in which I share and elaborate upon insights that I
acquired as the producer of these events. A secondary analysis deals with
the clash between intention and realization that every actor has to deal
with. A third analysis concerns the collaboration between people of
different disciplines, skills, interests and cultures. The fourth analysis
focuses on what can be formulated about natural, mediated and witnessed
presence given the research done.

1. Reflections
In the reflections on the Galactic Hacker Party the conveying of trust
between people in natural presence and in mediated presence, and also the
trust people have in the technology, was an issue both during the
production and the execution of the event. To address this problem, the
notion of the "social interface" surfaced. This is a person who bridges
different realms of time, place, relations and networks, and who is
dramatically positioned to be able to convey trust. The fact that "words
act" in digital technology made me realize profounder questions about the
influence of technology on identities. I realized that in the first
instance human beings deal with technology as actors. The notion of the
"thinking actor", who will use whatever works, became crucial in the
development of the argument I set out in this study.

In the reflections that evolved from the text laboratory on the
Seropositive Ball, the idea of "vital information" was elaborated upon. In
this event technology was used without hesitation because the interface
was easy and beautiful and the need to find good information was a matter
of life and death at the time. Information is "vital" only in the exact
time--place configuration where the receiving person is physically located
and it has to provide this person with the opportunity to act. A person
will only do this when he or she rightly or wrongly trusts what he or she
receives. One of the ways to create trustworthy vital information is to
gather what I formulated as "the crucial network": thus everyone and
everything that has contributed to the state of affairs and everyone or
everything that has the potential to change the status quo has to be
present. Orchestrating the crucial network involves the shaping of the
space between the different disciplines, skills, interests and cultures.
Collaboration in a crucial network requires a perspective that is shared
by all and which has the capacity to synchronize natural and mediated
presence and provides the catalyst effect of witnessed presence with a
direction (which in certain conditions can also cause counter--directions).

2. Thinking actors
Being involved in a networked event, and any day in our regular lives can
be considered a networked event, creates an unavoidable clash between
intention and realization. This clash occurs physically, emotionally and
cognitively and this clash provokes our "thinking" as actors. The word
"thinking" refers to the fact that people are confronted with a
discrepancy, which evolves from the clash between intention and
realization, and which they have to resolve. In mediated presence concepts
of causality change because the connection provides the context. The
context offered by a place with an embedded culture has disappeared.
Context, and especially local and implicit knowledge, can hardly be
mediated. Mediated presence does contribute information that influences
the mental maps that people have of a certain situation and it can
influence how people may adapt this map following such a clash.

The emotional clash between intention and realization appears to be much
more profound and significant than I had realized before I conducted this
study. Emotions, basic feelings of pain and pleasure, happiness and
sadness, about what is good for life or bad, guide a human being towards
well--being and survival on different levels of consciousness. This
includes not harming others, which leads to the assumption that human
ethics are grounded in emotions and the more elevated feelings like
compassion, love and solidarity, which people acquire over time (Damasio
2003). In mediated presence the personal ethical experience is not as
profound because mediation involves a limited sensorial experience. Strong
feelings and emotions that may be triggered through mediating presence do
not inform the body of how best to act to ensure well--being and survival.
I conclude that when issues of an ethical nature are confronted, natural
presence offers a better understanding upon which one can act towards
ensuring well--being and survival because the sense of presence can be

3. On collaboration and incommensurability
For the accomplishment of an act, an actor is dependent of the work of
other actors. When collaborating incommensurability (a fundamental not
sharing of an understanding) between practices is a factor that has to be
overcome for acts to be successful. Actors share terrains of
incommensurability and terrains of commensurability. Project management,
meta--cognitive skills, boundary objects and a shared perspective help in
this. In communities of practice, taxonomies are built that represent
conceptual schemes that define how actors act. In this context an act
cannot be true or false. It is a result of the being--in the world that a
taxonomy provides (Kuhn 2000). In the community that an actor operates in
multiple mediated presences contribute to the evolving taxonomies, which
influence and are a consequence of the way actors interact. Mediated
presence contributes to the evolving taxonomies in communities in which
witnessed presence plays a crucial role. I conclude that especially when
vital information is generated mediated presence contributes significantly
to the capacities that natural presence provides,
When actors have conversations about "what to do" and "how to do it",
these also include the "what would be good to do" and this is a question
of an ethical nature (Pols 2004). I therefore argue that when questions
arise, which also have ethical implications, people need to meet in
natural presence. When people brainstorm, innovate, find solutions and
evaluate, their personal ethical experience in natural presence, and the
embodied presence of power positions, interests, disciplines and skills,
contribute more significantly to the outcomes than a meeting via mediating
presence could provide. Mediated presences add to taxonomies and these may
reflect the shared ethics in a certain community, but they do not offer
such a rich personal and collective ethical experience as natural presence
does when having to invent or adapt to situations.

4. On presence
Natural presence is distinct and grounds ethical behaviour in one"s own,
as well as other people"s, survival. Mediated presence can provide vital
information and significant communication. Through social interaction,
witnessed mediated presence may contribute to taxonomies of communities of
practice. The dynamics of witnessed presence create grounds, rightly or
wrongly, for trust to build up or to break down. Witnessed presence in
mediated communication does not trigger a sense of responsibility and
respect for human dignity in the way that this happens in natural

Before analysing the case studies I was inclined to think that we, as
human beings, were dealing with multiple presences that each have their
own reality and are of equal importance because the experience of each
presence can be very immersive. By carrying out this study I came to
realize that all presences are ultimately rooted in natural presence.
Without natural presence, no mediated presence or witnessed presence can
be received or generated. To be able to partake in mediated presence one
needs to have enough physical and psychological energy, access to
financial and technological infrastructures and attention. It is the
different natural presences that are mediated by mediated presences.
Mediated presence has to be comprehensible and acceptable to the natural
presence where it is received, and the mediator has to have confidence
that what he/she mediates will convey what is intended. Competent
intercultural communication between natural presence contexts is
indispensable for mediated communication to succeed. Catharsis is bound to
natural presence, to have spent time here, now and with you. The fact that
in natural presence the personal ethical experience is most profound,
makes natural presence distinct.

Through mediating presence one can reach out to another human being in
different time/space configurations, which is often not possible in
natural presence alone, and people really appreciate this. When connecting
in mediated presence, only elements of the human being can be mediated.
Input is not output; only bits are exchanged. People can handle this very
well because they contextualize and attribute missing elements to the
communication. Mediated presence is edited and framed by the technology
and it is also edited and interpreted within these frameworks by people
using the technology. Mediated environments that offer both information
and communication facilities are attractive. The more layers of
consciousness that can be addressed, the stronger the presence experience.
Previous knowledge and opinions (including prejudices), media schemata and
processes of attribution, synchronization and adaptation define how people
receive and contextualize the mediated presences they perceive. Other
media also influence the media schemata of a particular mediated presence.
Mediated environments contribute to the taxonomies of communities. When
mediated presence generates vital information, it can add elements to
natural presence which natural presence otherwise would not have
possessed. Vital information creates the bridge between mediated and
natural presence in a very convincing way.

Through witnessing each other, in mediated and in natural presence, people
construct shared realities. Witnessing in natural presence and witnessing
in mediated presence have different effects. Witnessing in natural
presence changes the situation because the witness can also decide to act
on his or her behalf. Also, the witness can change the nature of an action
by testifying about it. For an act to exist in natural presence it has to
be witnessed because the act itself elapses. Being seen, having certain
interests or shared feelings recognized (without the social judgment
and/or limitations that may be part of natural presence) is a powerful
trigger for contributing to mediated environments. In mediated presence,
which can be endlessly stored and copied by the digital technologies, acts
do not have to disappear, which diminishes the need to testify.
In natural presence, being a witness includes having a responsibility for
what happens subsequently and people sense this. In mediated presence the
responsibility for what happens next is more limited and often people do
not sense that they can or need to influence what happens next, they just
enjoy being seen.

YUTPA (chapter 6)
The question in all social interaction is whether people will treat each
other with the respect that their human dignity requires. In natural
presence this is already problematic. In mediated presence, where
responsibility is much more difficult to sense and act upon, this is even
more so. As a result people adopt a moral distance towards others, towards
their own actions and even towards themselves. Adopting a moral distance
ultimately diminishes the sense of presence, the quest for well--being and
the survival of the self.

Because human beings are for the most part thinking actors in their
relation to technology, I propose to analyse and design products and
processes from a conceptual framework, which I have called YUTPA. YUTPA is
the acronym for "being with You in Unity of Time, Place and Action". You,
time, place and action can be understood as dimensions that can have
different values between You and not--You, Now and not--Now, Here and
not--Here, Do and not--Do. The word unity refers to the specific set of
relations between these four dimensions that is designed in a certain
product or process, which makes certain interactions possible while it
excludes others.

To be able to act and receive feedback, and to be able to contextualize
how one relates to other human beings, is essential when living in a world
full of multiple presences in which the respect for human dignity is at
stake. Certain YUTPA configurations of presence design foster respect for
human dignity and create a basis for trust to develop, while others
clearly do not. In a communication process, in which multiple presences
are enacted, a certain YUTPA configuration is built through the multiple
presences, which informs the actor in which time/space configuration he
relates, or does not relate, to certain people in a certain way, based
upon which one can act or not. In the design of information and
communication technologies -- in its infrastructures, servers, hardware,
software and interaction design -- a YUTPA awareness that is founded on
respect for human dignity should reflect this, for trust to be built up in
social interaction.

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net