Mediating context

Mediated presence requires focused attention, IJsselsteijn argues (IJsselsteijn 2005). This was hard to generate in the midst of all the things that were happening in Paradiso. On other occasions that I had used the 'fork' it had been in a classical theatre setting not in a multi disciplinary environment like the 0+Ball. We changed the lighting when Radio Paradiso was broadcasting, our presenters talked with the presenters there, but what was said was hard to understand for people who had just walked in to visit the 0+Ball. They were unaware of all the background information we had accumulated by that time about what was happening in San Francisco. There were no images available, and to convey the historical and political context of another location is troublesome anyway. The fact that people in Paradiso were in discussion with people in San Francisco only became meaningful on a few occasions during the 0+Ball.

I had anticipated that the media schemata that had been developed throughout more than 50 years of radio would be more confrontational and contribute to the theatrical setting of the 0+Ball. I had not realized that these radio schemata, when mediating presence and information that is consciously received, had become part of our private environments. People used to gather around the radio before TV took over the living rooms. I considered this habit of gathering around the radio to be a quality of the medium, while it actually appeared to be the common behaviour of a certain generation of people in a certain culture at a certain time, as discussed in chapter 2. In 1990 radio had become a medium that one used at home while engaged with other things, or when driving the car or painting the house, for example. In public places it was mostly perceived as acoustic wallpaper. The inherent power of radio was not bound to the medium, but to the habits of the time and those habits did not enable a programme like Radio Paradiso to become part of a theatrical show in this way. Heleen Riper, when reviewing this text, asked what would have happened had the connection with San Francisco been televised. Apart from the fact that video conferencing was still a very expensive, exclusive and elaborate technical enterprise at the time, the media schemata of television did include 'watching together' in 1990 which was much more common than radio being listened to jointly in 1990.

Apart from a certain lack of attention and understanding for a medium, and apart from a social interface that meditates trust, there was also the problem that for many visitors to Paradiso the radio programme was merely sound. It did not provide them with information because they did not realise the situation in San Francisco. One also needs to mediate 'context' for mediated presence to become meaningful. Mediating context is highly complex, it requires insight into each other's situation historical, political, social, cultural and economic for words to become meaningful. Therefore, prior knowledge, and experiences, of the other location and people with whom one can connect in a trustworthy relationship all appear to be prerequisites for such mediated presence to succeed in the sense that it becomes part of the action in the natural presence environment where the mediated presence is received. Images convey more information in the same second than sound does. But sound makes a connection that is more 'real'.