Witnessed presence

In communities, organizations and societies people negotiate trust and truth and witnessed presence contributes to this process significantly. Witnessed presence is a structuring element in how people live together in natural presence. Through witnessing each other, in mediated and in natural presence, people construct shared realities upon which they then act.

Being seen is a powerful trigger for human beings to reveal themselves. By witnessing each other people confirm each other's existence, and they also judge each other's natural presence to the point that people condemn or support each other for good or bad reasons. This is one of the reasons that people like to engage in mediated presence because it does not need to reveal one's sex, race, age, health etc. Being seen, having certain interests or shared feelings recognized (without the social judgment and/or limitations that may be part of natural presence) is a powerful trigger for contributing to mediated environments. However pleasant this may be, it also causes many problems when communities want to create trustworthy and reliable environments.

A witness being present and being noticed marks a point of no return. Only moving forward is possible from then on. In this sense witnessing functions as a catalyst in going forward. Witnessed presence can function as a catalyst in either direction: being more together or being less together. It is a powerful dynamic that begins when presence is witnessed, whether it is mediated or not.

Witnessed natural presence triggers emotions and social feelings like compassion, love and solidarity, but also neglect, hate and discrimination. Mediated presences can play a role in the development of these emotions even though they are based in the physical experiences of the actors. Such emotions are catalysts for social actions. Being a witness can trigger people to contribute and to exchange positions and opinions, also via mediated presence. Dialogues and conversation are difficult to orchestrate in mediated presence because the embodied ethics of the human beings who are participating are hard to mediate by way of technology. Particularly when people do not have a relationship with each other a mere exchange of opinions is the result.

Structuring how people live together and witness each other in mediated presences is dominated by the way the technology is designed. People do find their own paths within the predefined and designed formats and create their own reality through the variety of technologies they use. The current systems for tracking and tracing, and the scale and pace at which mediated presence operates, is very different to what natural presence can facilitate. Social systems that use witnessed presence as a fundament for negotiating trust and truth are in trouble because of the gap in scale and speed between natural and mediated presence.