Walter Benjamin, living in the era of the invention and implementation of photo and film, reflects on the value of the original in relation to its copy (Benjamin 1936). What is the difference between a painting and a photograph of it, between an actor on stage and the same actor on screen? Is there an 'aura' that the original possesses that can never be copied? And what are the unique qualities of the mechanically-reproduced copy that can highlight elements that could not be perceived in the original, because of its technical reproduction?
Because of the development of digital technology we are today faced with technological representations that were not available at the time Walter Benjamin lived: tracking and tracing, collection and distribution, presence and absence in different space and time configurations and the ever increasing speed, scale and use of a variety of representations for communication. It is a question of debate whether 'the original', the 'real one' as it is often characterised, can be produced via digital technology. The digital original already has all the qualities of the copy and it can be limitlessly distributed without any changes occurring. The context of its particular time-space configuration at the moment that it was conceived, and the context of its particular time-space configuration at the moment that it is received, appears to be its only distinction from any other copy or original. If identifiable at all, the question is whether this moment of conception, or this moment of reception, has any significance at all. In certain situations it will, in others it will not. Also, to know whether what we see or hear or feel is 'real', like the 'realness' that is produced by an original, becomes more and more difficult to know. The insight that digital presence technologies, and the pieces of information and communication that they produce are context dependent, has guided the research that is presented here. This is why in the explorative case studies, that are described in chapter 3 and 4, the 'text laboratory' has been chosen as methodology. Any context is interminably complex, and by writing about it, which triggers new writing as described in chapter 1, elements surface that otherwise would not.