The role of presence for knowledge sharing and dialogic interaction

In their analysis of human interaction behaviour in the early mediated spaces of Xerox EuroPARC, Christian Heath, Paul Luff and Abigail Sellen discussed the limitations of mediated spaces that primarily provided a ‘face-to-face, head and shoulders view’, stressing that ‘face-to-face interaction constitutes a relatively small part of working together and is one amongst a diverse configuration of spatial and bodily arrangements through which personnel participate in each other’s activities and accomplish the “business at hand”’ (Heath et al. 1995: 177).

One conclusion of the Media Space project is that ‘video technology which primarily provides a face-to-face orientation to users, fails to support peripheral monitoring and peripheral participation, does not provide access to tools, artefacts and the users’ local environment, and introduces unanticipated asymmetries into the interaction between users, is unlikely to support even the most basic forms of organisational work’ (ibid.).

Based on their prior research on organizational group behaviour, Heath et al. stress that collaborative workplaces in general reveal generic features that are also relevant to mediated environments. In a collaborative setting, co-workers develop ‘a body of informal and tacit practices for distributing information to each other and coordinating simultaneously multiple activities. These practices allow personnel to distribute information to colleagues and to monitor each other’s activities whilst apparently engaged in a single, individual task’. (ibid: 176).