A science of trade-offs

Wijnand IJsselsteijn, researcher at TU Eindhoven, has been involved with the European Presence programme and has been responsible for the publication of the work that results from the EU Programme on Presence.note 50 In his PhD dissertation "Presence in Depth" IJsselsteijn presents, in addition to his own research, the results of the thinking, experimentation and measuring of presence in this network (IJsselsteijn 2004). He concludes that mediated presence will function when four issues are addressed: attention is required from the person who will experience the mediated presence; the space which is offered through which presence is mediated has to have a spatial extent (depth cues, field of view); an ongoing construction of a sense of place has to be triggered; feedback from the environment 'what is out there', should be swift, consistent and reliable and respond to our real time sensory motor probing.

As may be clear from this conclusion, the work in the presence network is largely determined by scientific insights. IJsselsteijn's work is therefore remarkable because he also bridges these insights with a more academic literary understanding of a sense of presence as it occurs in film, books and other narratives. "Of course, in the entertainment industry, the creative people behind non-interactive presence-evoking environments are well aware of the strengths and limitations of their trade, and make excellent use of coherent, seamless, narrative structuring, engaging our cognitive constructive processes to their fullest." (IJsselsteijn 2004, 166).

By being involved in a narrative a person can be very much present in the imaginative world and this imaginative experience of presence is challenged by technologically mediated presence. The boat that a child has made from a chair may be more 'real' than the boat that is generated on a screen. IJsselsteijn concludes his research with the following insight: "In sum, presence research is about finding out how much information is necessary and sufficient for presence to occur, and how to mix different media from factors to engender an optimal experience. As long as media systems are limited and imperfect, presence engineering will be a science of trade-offs, an endeavour which needs to be informed by a coherent presence theory, and reliable, valid and sensitive presence measures." (IJsselsteijn 2004, 165).

The idea of presence engineering as a science of trade-offs resonates greatly with my experience as a designer of networked events (the case studies that will be analysed are both networked events). One has to be aware though where the trade-offs occur. In art and in entertainment the generation of a sense of presence is also a trade-off, but the sources they use and the particular elements are different. Also, I realize, that the technologies that result from technologically driven presence research, as facilitated by the EU programme, generate new technologies that later become the working material for artists and designers. We need the physics, physiology and the psychology arising from the technology presence research. Artists and designers work with the human mind and emotions in a very different way. Until the present day it has been very hard to make these different ways of conducting research merge. The EU programme I3, which was part of the Esprit programme, was a deliberate attempt to do this.note 51 And in the Sony Research lab in Paris, which produced AIBO, the robot dog, insights from science, brain research and art are also applied. The interaction between art and science falls outside the bounds of this study, even though it is a great area of inspiration.