We, as human beings, connect to each other in many different ways. We meet virtually and participate in many different types of networks in merging on- and offline realities. We also participate in new types of communities such as energy communities in which participants organise their own exchange of energy. Energy communities rely on communication and visualisation technology, but also on technology needed to provide data, for example, on usage, pricing, availability, accounting and expected market developments mandating distributed data aggregation and service level agreements between participants.
To take responsibility we, as participants in such communities, need to have some form of presence for each other, both in on- and offline context as well as in information and communication trajectories. The design of presence is a prerequisite to participation: understanding the value of presence is a prerequisite to the design of large distributed complex participatory systems.
Human kind has been mediating presence since the beginning of times: leaving traces, making maps and drawings, telling stories, performing rituals, music and play. These are all ways with which we communicate presence from one time or place to another, from one human being to another. Technology has made it possible for us to mediate our presence in new ways facilitating communication, interaction and transactions over distance, often simultaneously. With the introduction of every new medium, new ways of establishing connection, and being able to say ‘hello’ for example, is the first achievement and source of surprise and curiosity. Soon after, when many people start to use a new medium, this is integrated in day-to-day practices of millions of people and new habits, customs and understanding emerge (Wyatt 2004). While new technologies produce increasingly better ways to produce mediated presence, natural presence is still distinct from mediated presence.
We, as human beings, are creative, and find unexpected ways to survive and serve our own well-being. New technologies, new systems, are emerging continuously, connecting people across the world, creating connections between family friends and total strangers. These connections can be beneficial or detrimental for those involved. Facebook, for example, is designed to anticipate specific types of behaviour with participatory scripts to build on this human potential of connecting with others. The outcomes of human behaviour, however, cannot be predicted, and unintended side-effects happen. The real-time connection between dozens, hundreds and thousands of people Facebook provides has shown to be powerful for gathering people both for the good and for the bad. Social networks were instrumental to the rising of the Arab Spring between 2010 and 2012, to the hooligan gathering in London in 2011 and to Project X in Haren in the Netherlands in 2012. In all of these events the behaviour of many individuals together creates a different situation and experience than any individual alone could have anticipated. In social networks individual behaviour is contextualized and inspired and this leads to new formation of (historical) experience, which is focus of further research in a variety of domains (Castells 2012).
This chapter elaborates on the notion that presence is essentially the strive for well-being and survival. Designing for the value of presence is not designing for a specific behaviour. It is designing for experience, as argued in this chapter. Presence as a value for complex systems design has great societal relevance. Research into this value is timely.