To us messy-ass humans, the definition of “presence” is as gray as the matter in our paradox-laden frontal lobes. Presence can never be mechanized into minutia–codified into an algorithm caught in the on/off binary mix. Presence is empathy, connection, focus, concern–planted and nurtured in the biological and neurological recesses of our ubiquitous chemical (im)balance.
“Tele”-presence is in itself a paradox. The “tele-” of “-phone/-vision” lives in the world of technology, distance, the wholly unperson world of mediated experience. Presence is the warm, skin-smell influence of one-bodyness; the “eyes, windows, soul” cliche of, dare I say it, love. How do these concepts find themselves together? Can the trans-human, trans-mission, trans-cendence of technology recreate a suitable simulacrum of the flesh, the voice, the lips?
It’s the tools. The spear that kills better than hands. The book that remembers better than minds. The bike that runs faster than legs. The computer that…does everything better than it’s ever been done before, period and forever. These tools let us extend and design the solution to every need. The need of my hunger is no longer fulfilled by walking outside and harvesting, but by an inconceivably complex system of labor, chemicals, trucks, refrigerators, advertisements, design, engineering, economics and sliding doors. Can our intimacy be so designed? Can our love? Can our presence with each other be picked apart by a million bytes, distributed, categorized, analyzed and mechanized into the most efficient and efficacious “love” between these people-that-are-but-systems?
Yes. It can. It has.
But not all the way. People who meet online still breathe. People who fuck with Tinder still sweat. These tele-tools allow us to explore our intimacy in new, designed ways, but until we offload our brains to bytes, we’ll still be interfacing with the same mushy gray matter that makes up our lives. We hurt, we love, we cry, we fuck, we are true and false, we are 1 and 0. Our lives are built on instinct, on chemical, on neuron–on q-tips and toothpaste. So long as our blood is red, the world of “tele” and the world of “presence” will remain separated, even if only by an infinitesimal wisp of space.