[-empyre-] IX Asence

Jonathan Marshall Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au
Fri Oct 12 11:36:22 EST 2012


One of the most obvious features of list life is the dialectic between presence and absence. Offline it is generally possible to tell whether a person is present or absent. Presence and status will be acknowledged by others making, eye contact, noises, gestures, or by their pointedly ignoring that person. Existence is reinforced by reaction.

People are generally aware of who is listening to the conversation and of their reactions to each other - these listeners and the reactions become part of the conversation itself. On a mailing list this is not the case. It is possible for a person to be present upon a list without others being aware of them - there is no independent marker of existence beyond the act of communication itself.  For example I have no idea who the audience is on Empyre, and how that affects how this stuff will be read, although I might learn with luck. It is the audience who can give something meaning even for the emitter or performer - sometimes to the emitter's dismay - and this involves all kind of twists and upset.
Even in close email 'conversation' between people who are aware of each other, this problematic dialectic is emphasised by the termination of email. In offline conversation, reception of a message and the termination of communication is marked by a negotiation of grunts and/or formal phrases - however, email conversation is usually terminated abruptly with suspension of closure. There is no certainty whether you have been received, or read, or of the nature of your reader's reaction.  You live with continual suspension of closure or recognition. Your presence is always drifting away.
A person who is not posting now, or being responded to now, does not exist.

Being online can produce a situation in which one person has a deep sense of intimacy with another person or other people who live out their lives before them, and yet the others have no awareness of this reader at all. When the person tries to take this felt intimacy to the others they can meet with quite radical and unexpected rejection.

I use the term 'asence' to indicate this uncertain ambiguous relationship between presence and absence.
Resolving (the pain?) of asence is important for online behaviour. It adds light to trolling flame and netsex.

It may even be that the apparent strangenes of this form of presence increases the sense of an altered state and can add to the sense of the magic and power of being online - although it might also add to a sense of powerlessness, until one gets response


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