On Presence

Permalink for this paragraph 0 MKG: Now I’m going to switch tracks entirely, because I’ve been wanting to ask you about this. I’m actually off Facebook now, but I was on it for a while, and I happened to catch a note you posted about going to see Marina Abramović’s “The Artist Is Present” at MOMA. And I wanted to ask you about that experience, because I wound up tuning in and watching you there, and it looked to me like a pretty intense experience, one that went on much longer than I thought it would. I thought it might be a five-minute, ten-minute interaction, but it went on for quite a long time. Can you describe your experience?

Permalink for this paragraph 0 BS: It was nowhere near as long as I would have liked it to have been. I was there towards the end of the afternoon, and I didn’t feel right taking up everyone else’s space.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 MKG: So you could choose when to leave?

Permalink for this paragraph 0 BS: Yes, it was completely up to the sitter to decide how long to stay. One guy actually sat with Marina for the full seven hours.

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Since I arrived at 8:30 in the morning but didn’t sit with her until 2:30, I got to watch the seven or eight people who went before me. But even with all that prep, I was quite unprepared for the intensity of the experience. It felt almost as if I couldn’t breathe for the first five minutes. And then, at a certain point, our eyes locked, and she moved in towards me. I hadn’t seen her do that before and I just got lost in this very private space — just the two of us in this sort of deep, deep connection. For all I know, she was thinking about her laundry, but my instinct is that she was really trying hard to connect with the people who sat with her.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 MKG: There is something within the idea of that performance that relates to presence and communication that might also have some relationship to the way we communicate and share online. Do you see a correspondence?

Permalink for this paragraph 0 BS: Hmmm. If there’s a connection, I think it’s that this piece drives home in a very powerful way what we are losing as our relationships are increasingly mediated by interaction with machines. Unadulterated presence is looking more and more like an endangered species. Many of us try to use Facebook to communicate with actual friends and relatives, but the quality of the interaction is so obviously shallow compared to really being in someone’s presence.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 MKG: It seems to me that there is a relationship between presence and intimacy, and that’s something you’ve talked about with eBooks, and that something like the iPad — the mobile platform — allows you to be intimate with an electronic book in a way that reading it on a computer doesn’t.

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BS: I think the sense of intimacy comes first from the fact that I hold it in my hand when I use it. To put it another way, the mind/body connection is very tight. But there’s another important factor stemming from the fact that all my media is there — my reading, my music, my games, Facebook, mail, and even voice via Skype. So the iPad quickly became an extension of me in a way that nothing else really ever has. It really seems like the first instance of the Young Lady’s Primer. That’s why I find that the people who denigrate the iPad because it’s “only” a consumption machine are not really grasping that we’ve never had a consumption device like this before. However it evolves is going to be very important and very interesting. And I want to be a part of it.

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