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

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


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.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationDigital Roots
Subtitle of host publicationHistoricizing Media and Communication Concepts of the Digital Age
EditorsGabriele Balbi, Nelson Ribeiro, Valérie Schafer, Christian Schwarzenegger
Place of PublicationGermany
PublisherDe Gruyter Oldenbourg
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9783110740202
ISBN (Print) 9783110739886
StatePublished - 2021

Publication series

Name Studies in Digital History and Hermeneutics
Publisher De Gruyter Oldenbourg
ISSN (Print)2629-4540
ISSN (Electronic)2629-4559


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