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BY-NC-ND 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Oldenbourg 2021


Or, We Have Always Been Ghosts, from Cicero to Computers

From the book Digital Roots

  • Jérôme Bourdon

Or, We Have Always Been Ghosts, from Cicero to Computers



From the mid-1970s, new terms (social presence, telepresence, mediated presence) have been coined to refer to synchronous communications at a distance, through telecommunications or computers, with specific affordances: feeling present in a remote space, interacting with faraway humans or machines; a tradition of empirical and theoretical research was soon born. Using telepresence to refer to all those phenomena, this chapter also enlarges the meaning of the term to include previous historical forms of presence at a distance, resorting to “poor” technologies (classic broadcasting, the telegraph, newspapers, correspondence, certain forms of painting) and allowing connection with a variety of creatures, both humans and non-humans, but always, in some ways, humanized. It shows that the experience of human agents was not less rich and complex with “poor” past technologies than with contemporary “rich” ones. It emphasizes the ambivalence of the experience: telepresence has always been celebrated as bridging gaps and criticized for failing to do so, and this basic ambivalence endures across technologies and times. Finally, this chapter suggests a historical research program into various forms of presence, a general anthropological enterprise beyond our obsession with contemporary technologies.

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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