I and Thou, You and not-You

In this section I want to argue that the way we are witnessed and witness other people, deeply influences the perception of our environment. The way we relate to the person with whom we interact has a distinct influence on what happens. I want to argue that the presence of other people influences our own sense of presence in all three neuropsychological levels as Damasio formulates them. To make this argument I go back to the philosopher, Martin Buber, who lived in the first decades of the 20th century, a contemporary of Walter Benjamin.

In 1923, Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher, published his book 'Ich und Du', which is published in English in 1937 under the title 'I and Thou' (Buber 1923). It is a philosophical and religious text in which Buber addresses the transformation of 'the other' in modern life. The text is written in poetic prose, and in religious circles this book was perceived as a revelation. Buber suggested that the Divine can be encountered in relation to another person and should not be considered as an external authoritarian entity, as had been the experience and understanding of Divinity previously. The other person that one has a relationship with should be approached as Thou because through this person divinity materializes in our world. Inter-human relationships are only a reflection of the human encounter with God. Human beings enter an I-Thou relationship with their whole being. Alongside the I-Thou relationships, we encounter many people in an I-It form. It reflects the world of people who we are not in a relationship with. In I-It relationships we see people at a distance, as a thing, a part of the environment, bound in chains of causality, according to Martin Buber.

Buber's contribution to the thinking about human nature has been significant. He inspired a scholar like Carl Rogers, who is one of the founding fathers of psychotherapy. And also Paulo Freire, for example, who developed literacy methodologies in Brazil, which functioned as a liberation movement to set the poor free. Even though he argues from a religious perspective, his perception of the tension between people who we have a relationship with and people who we don't have a relationship with, but who treat us as we treat them, as an 'It' in a causal manner, deeply influenced the thinking about human nature in the West.

The distinction between I-Thou and I-It resonates with today's tensions and confusions about how we encounter each other. In this study the Thou-It dichotomy is understood as a continuum through which we move as people when we meet each other. There are many variations between the experience of the purely individual uniqueness of a person and the experience of this person as being part of a crowd. The Thou reflects a special relationship in which individuality is celebrated. Whether this is to be understood in a religious context or not, is beyond the scope of this study and will not be addressed. The love between man and woman, between mother and child, between lovers and between friends is subject to many social rules, codes and cultural expressions in the variety of societies that humankind has produced. In this study about the design of presence I want to take this element of human nature into account. From now on, I will address this layer in human presence with the word You, with a capital 'Y'. In this way, I hope to pay tribute to Buber's work and inspiration and at the same time distinguish my understanding of the concept Thou from his formulation. I do not take the religious implications into account, while this is vital to him. I ground the concept of 'You' in social rules, codes and cultural expressions in the variety of societies that humankind has produced to express and streamline lines of loyalty, hierarchical and non-hierarchical connections and feelings of love. When we take the communication facilitated by information and communication technologies into consideration, we can see very different practices and very different experiences of these technologies, dependent on how we relate to the person with whom we interact.