Presence is both where you are, and where you've left your track.
#3216 Created 11/30/2012 Updated 12/06/2019
[ author's notes; still need to better tease apart attention and presence ]
I have a presence on Facebook (a very small one).
We have become familiar with the concept of an online user having a "presence" in social media. This usually means a user has left text or graphic traces of a "visit" to the "site".
Presence can manifest in many ways, such as a user contributing content via posts to online social services and boards, as well as responding to other posts, or using tools such as "like" and "share" to suggest degree of approval to content posted by other users.
These more obvious user traces form the visible layer of a deeper data set each user generates. Almost every action a user takes online, on a keyboard or touchscreen or verbally, generates server actions and data requests, which generate log entries on every system involved in the transaction. A user in Wichita making a single click on a page link served from Amsterdam may generate more than a hundred computer data records on web, mail and network servers all over the globe. And every click, keystroke or motion that each user makes on any webpage anywhere does the same, creating a virtual cascade-effect of data generation from a single user's action.
That iceberg of invisible data lurks beneath the surface, while on top the visible part of the user's action -- clicking the "post" button on Facebook -- contributes to the user's "presence" in the social layer.
Presence has been a staple of media production in broadcast media since the early days of radio personalities. The evolution of trusted "news voices" helped give credibility and marketability to first radio, and later television news, delivered by market-tailored deep-voiced figures of male authority. Those authority voices and personalities played key roles in the evolution of broadcast news and entertainment, and remains a key feature of cable, broadcast and online productions.
Presence online has taken a similar tack. "Presence" is defined as "the state or fact of existing, occurring, or being present in a place or thing", with a variant meaning of "a person or thing that exists or is present in a place but is not seen", such as Walt Disney still maintaining a presence at Disneyland, although long deceased.
From the context of online content as a collection, "presence" extends through time, as individual items are placed online at specific points in time, forming a series. These items exist often in multiple relative relationships to complex structures of threaded conversations, user comments to other postings, and nested structures of dizzying complexity of user posts, forwards, and re-posts, both within and across media platforms and technologies.
In this way, "Presence" assumes a dual meaning. First, it's where you are with your media attention, your active mental-media construct, in the moment. And it also means the digital leavings of your presence at previous moments in time within media structure, represented through postings, responses, likes, shares, and other statements of condition.
It is also "presence" in the trail of your activities through your bank accounts, credit cards, GPS-tagged cell-phone photographs, call records, and NSA recordings.
So, Presence is both where you are, and where you've left your track. It's simultaneously your impression of participation in online communities, and the impressions of other members of the online community received from encountering your traces.
Lot's of dangerous and vague words here, like "is" and "where", that make sense only in the context of using online media. Defined as the "3rd person singular present indicative of be", knowing where your attention "is" when you are online is problematic. Your body and your mind, the usual targets of the reference to "you", are seated in front of your computer (or staring at the hole in your hand), but your attention -- that movie playing in your head -- is quite often located in a media "space" momentarily constructed by your consciousness.
The "old" media battle -- which was always an economic confrontation -- was for your allegiance, your loyalty, your physical presence at a cash register. It was a campaign to elicit a slight change in behavior (Buy Me!) as a result of being exposed to streams of media messages over time. Your profile was the aggregate of your activities over time.
The battle in the "new days" (after yesterday) is for not just for your attention, but also for your *presence* in this mental space, as an active participant. For while you are "there", along with you comes your profile, your associations, your relationships, your likes, your shares. When you sign in to Facebook or Pinterest or Gmail or other social media services, your presence is the search trigger that makes your full profile and history instantly relevant.
It's not just you, it's potentially everything you've done and said, anywhere online; all your data, all your history, at some point, will become active elements in your presence. This is, in part, why human relationships form such an integral part of social media; the marketing value of an ever-expanding database of human identities and relationships is inestimable.
So, we must define "presence" and "attention" in the same breath, for one's attention is the creator the presence, both in the past and the present, and your in-the-moment presence is the key to summoning that data. Your attention is the factor that enables marketing; your presence, your online statements, your economic activities through time are what drive the generation of the marketing opportunities.
Most telling is the use of the word "pay" before the word "attention". In fact, we do "pay attention" because our attention is measured out as portions of our existence, portions of our lives. The man who "spends" four hours a day watching TV, spends 15% of his life "in" the land of TV programming. Not just observing from outside, but mentally transferring the center of sensation into a convincing, papier-mâche barn.