A Lack of Presence

There was once this thing called “presence” – I miss it.

I realized not too long ago that I’ve been using technologies like text and instant messaging for, well, decades.  When I started, you had to be logged in to the mainframe.  Then it was IM. (iChat anyone?  MSN Messenger? Jabber?)  Now, it’s on our phones.

The thing that bugs me is that what I always saw as the biggest drawback – “too bad I’m not logged in all the time” – got solved.  Be careful what you wish for!

Now we are available all the time – usually as long as we’re “in range”, which is pretty much 7/24.  You can send me a txt, or now even use the Google Hangout app or its equivalents like Apple iMessage, and you know I’ll get it “instantly”.

That there’s no “offline” means that there’s no real call to publish information that says that I’m receptive now – “this is a good time for a question or hello”, vs. that I can’t/won’t look at your communication.  “Didn’t you get my txt?”  No – I was busy. Or at the gym.  I might have been able to tell you this – that was the point of presence; when you logged in (which you always had to do), you could decide if you were really “there” and post a bit of info about it.

But you probably aren’t “on” one of those aforementioned networks.  And I miss that; it seems like a step backwards even though I understand – “status” messages (“publishing presence”) never really caught on with a large proportion of those using messaging systems.  That was actually some of the inspiration for Twitter, it turns out.

The joke about people posting their every movement, meal, and idle observation – the underlying thing that strikes me about that is how this was always meant to be ephemeral.  If it made me feel better to constantly provide my status, it wasn’t in a “feed”, it was just the latest observation.  But when Twitter became a Thing – monetized – postings were supposed to be “important”.  And, yeah, taken as a stream, it does seem stupid.  The other side of the coin: automate all of this, so one doesn’t have to take any action at all to share this status (including location), and then we worry rightfully about the privacy implications.

So, this was probably a good idea, that (like so many things in our time) got made into a “product”.  It’s great to have messaging so widely available, but we now see the downside in how society has adopted it, the collection and permanent retention of every thought ever emitted, and abuse and commercialization at the behest of the marketplace.  And the lack of intent needed to participate leading to popularity but somehow lost potential.


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