Quantifying presence

Last night I did what many people have been doing of late. I participated in a social gathering on Zoom.

Everybody brought their intoxicating drink of choice, we had a far ranging discussion, and some creative background images were deployed to dramatic or comic effect. It was a fun time.

Yet it didn’t feel the same as it does when you go over to somebody’s house or hang out in a bar or coffee shop. There was still that feeling of looking at somebody through a window, as though you are visiting somebody in prison, and you’re all trying to pretend that everything is ok.

On a scale from zero to fully present, I would rate it somewhere between a four and a five, where fully present is ten. Which leads to an interesting question.

As technology advances, we will get progressively better at creating a sense of presence for conversations between people who are not in the same place. How will we measure our progress?

Can we develop a way to quantify presence? Will we have anything to go on, other than individual subjective intuition, to know whether we are making progress?

Perhaps we can eventually create a kind of “Turing test for presence.” That seems like a very good goal to aim for, and now seems like a good time to start.

One Response to “Quantifying presence”

  1. Alistair says:

    I know what you mean by the feeling of looking through the window. One thing I have noticed is that it can depend on what you are doing. When playing board games with friends, I can jump from a four to an eight or nine. When playing a game, you are mostly focusing on the game itself. You spend most of the time looking at the board and are only occasionally looking at each other. As a result the evening feels more like a normal game. The only issue is when the audio glitches, then it becomes very obvious that you are not in the same room.

    Perhaps you can make use of this technique, getting people to want to focus on something else, to help.

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