Trust and witnessed presence

When people witness each other in natural and in mediated presence, the shared experience becomes more powerful. The very act of witnessing already influences the way trust develops. Witnessing in mediated presence is always limited by the elements that are mediated and the elements that are not mediated. The witnessing can actually make the loss of certain elements less painful because it confirms the connection that is made, which may generate trust by itself. Being a witness involves having consciously perceived something that has happened. When witnessing, the witness has presence of his or her own and can decide to act for his or her own well-being and survival. Witnessing takes place in natural presence and it can also take place in mediated presence. Witnessing in natural presence changes the situation because the witness can also decide to act on his or her own behalf. Also, the witness can change the nature of an action by testifying about it. The way a witness can influence what happens next in mediated environments is limited by the editing of the information and communication and the formats that the technology facilitates.

To be able to act as a witness, a person needs a sense of what will be good and what will be bad, in order to anticipate an intended effect. Being in a 'genuine space' a witness has little capacity to interfere or to testify. Places, in which a culture is shared, facilitate witnessing in a clear manner because the witness is aware of the morality around him and will know more or less what is good and what is bad and how to judge the presence of the actors that he or she witnesses. When witnesses do not know what the morality around them involves, they will be hesitant to use their capacity to interfere in what they witness. To create a 'trusted' sense of place in mediated environments is not at all easy, which is why 'being a witness' in mediated environments is more difficult.

For an act to exist in natural presence it has to be witnessed because the act itself passes. Even though the traces may be very convincing, the exact act is over. In mediated presence, in which an exchange of communication and information can be endlessly stored and copied by digital technologies, acts do not have to disappear, which diminishes the need to testify. In natural presence, being a witness includes having a responsibility for what happens next and people sense this. In mediated presence the responsibility for what happens next is more limited and often people do not sense that they can or need to influence what happens.

When creating environments in which mediated presences have to operate, the formulation of perspectives may compensate for a lack of a shared morality (the 3D point in the 2D network). Such perspectives are issue based, which fits the way mediated presences are integrated into daily life. When issues, and perspectives on these issues, are formulated, the witnessing of one another becomes channelled and the lack of information, which mediated presence always causes, is less of a hurdle. It is particularly in political contexts, in which people share a struggle and feel solidarity, that certain networks can convey a context, which helps people to act.

Mediating presence is also an act in itself and when this is witnessed, in natural or mediated presence, this triggers a process that results in evolving taxonomies. I will not elaborate on how taxonomies come into existence, how they change and under what circumstances certain influences have an impact. I conclude that mediated presence, in the first instance, does contribute to the evolving taxonomies of the communities in which it functions.

One of the ways to create a trustworthy environment is to gather the crucial network and make it transparent. All people, organizations and businesses that can change the course of events and that have contributed to the current state of affairs, have to be present at such a moment. When significant change is about to occur, the gathered crucial network has to be present for the change to have an impact on what happens subsequently. Gathering in natural presence is more powerful than gathering in mediated presence. If gathering in natural presence is impossible, the participation in the crucial network via mediated presence at least confirms connection and changes the configuration of the network. In this case input into the formulated perspective and issues can be supplied, even though it depends upon the people present in natural presence as to how it will be allowed to influence what happens next. A collaborative authoring of outcomes is rooted in gathering in natural presence, despite participation via mediated presence. The question is whether the collaborative authoring of outcomes will be accepted in such a way that all involved, the mediated and non-mediated parties, will base their subsequent actions upon the collaborative authored outcomes.

To conclude this section I will argue the following: Natural presence is distinct and grounds ethical behaviour in one's own, as well as other people's, survival. Mediated presence can provide vital information and significant communication. Through social interaction, witnessed mediated presence may contribute to taxonomies of communities of practice. The dynamics of witnessed presence create grounds, rightly or wrongly, for trust to build up or to break down. Witnessed presence in mediated communication does not trigger a sense of responsibility and respect for human dignity in the same way as in natural presence.