From Correspondence to Computers: A Theory of Mediated Presence in History

Jérôme Bourdon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article proposes a theory of mediated presence, defined as the sense of presence - despite physical absence - made possible by technology. Pushing the boundaries of media, the theory integrates various notions of presence at a distance: telepresence in telecommunications and computer-mediated communication, liveness in broadcasting and on the Internet, and the epistolary presence of antiquity. Theoretically, it adopts a social constructivist approach to long-term communication history, with an emphasis on technological breakdowns. The core discussion addresses three criteria for a historical, comparative analysis of mediated presence: dissemination versus dialogue, transmission-reception time lags, and levels of disembodiment. Refuting axiological and technology-centered views of history, the article concludes that increased technological options for presence at a distance have remained essentially ambivalent for users who vacillate between the need for distance and the search for connection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-83
Number of pages20
JournalCommunication Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • Computer-Mediated Communication
  • Epistolary
  • Liveness
  • Media History
  • Social Construction of Technology
  • Telecommunications


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