A multiplicity of presences

Although it seems as if we have never been without social media, location aware technologies, and apps to organize many aspects of our lives, we are in fact just at the beginning of our relationship with digital technologies and networks.

Already those of us who use smartphones as part of our daily routines and rituals are perpetually connected to the internet. This continuous access and hyperconnectivity means that our experience of public and private space is fluid. Richard Sennett describes the public realm as ‘a place where strangers meet’, and in today’s networked society strangers may meet as much in cyberspace as on the physical ground, or in a mixed-reality. Hence 21c public space can be perceived as being both real and virtual, or inextricably intertwined.

We now have a wireless skin overlaid on the practices of our lives, so that we are in ourselves and in our networks at the same time.  We never quit the networks, and the networks never quit us…

Manuel Castells, 2008

Having mobile connectivity changes the shape and texture of our everyday lives. Kenneth Gergen speaks of ‘diverted or divided consciousness’ mediated by mobile phones where one is physically present but one’s social focus is elsewhere – Gergen calls this ‘absent presence’. However, location-based alternate-reality gaming mediated by smartphones, offers a form of ‘heightened presence’ where a participant’s awareness and experience of her physical location is increased through the interplay of the material and digital worlds. These are just two examples of the multiplicity of presences that are afforded by today’s perpetually interconnected spaces.

Physical presence and absent presence are becoming integrated as the character of public and private spaces change.

Rainie, L. & Wellman, B. 2012


As we have embraced digital technologies and they have become a central part of many people’s identities, so to are they changing the ways in which we conceive of, and behave in, public spaces. People’s relationships with one another, with work, time, and learning are all affected by today’s hyperconnectivity, as is our understanding of what it means to be present in space.