Telepresence and Tele-absence: A Phenomenology of the (In)visible Alien Online
Proliferating media forms, from tablets to Twitter, are changing communicative practice, delimiting new experiential horizons, and thus providing phenomenological research with novel variations on the experience of self and other. Videoconferencing via Skype or FaceTime offers prominent examples of these changing forms. Despite the use of these communication technologies in both educational contexts and everyday life, educational videoconferencing has been described in the research literature as “a hidden mode of delivery, employing invisible pedagogical techniques.” In this study I address this situation of simultaneous familiarity, invisibility and uncertainty by focusing particularly on the lived experience of space, the body and eye contact in videoconferencing contexts. This study suggests that the disruption of spatial coherence and power of gaze and mutual gaze are all but unavoidable features of this experience. It concludes by emphasizing the importance forms or expressions of absence, such as the diminution of eye contact, or the importance of not always being perceived as performing or “on” in videoconferencing contexts.