Co-presence: Convenience or Curse?

As media forms and technology continue to converge, more and more people are participating in social media, e-mail, cloud computing, online gaming, SMS / MMS, push notifications, and instant messaging. These technologies create a certain ‘virtual reality’, or ‘pure information space’, immersing and connecting people across great distances in artificial environments for instant, interactive communication (Featherstone and Burrows, 1995).

Perhaps the most important consideration, however, is the creation of ‘co-presence’, or simultaneous presence in both physical and virtual worlds (Gregg, 2007). Technological co- presence has blurred the line between work and leisure, enabling people to collaborate on projects and play at any time. Most importantly, it raises interesting questions about technology’s capacity to improve or degrade human social interaction. Is it a distraction, or does it keep us connected with a broader range of friends impossible to maintain by normal, face-to- face interaction? Featherstone and Burrows (1995, p. 1) state that technological co-presence, for many, “…revives utopian impulses, coupled with the sense that we are on the edge of moving into a reconfigured world which bears little relation to our previous speculations”.

Google is currently developing a new device called ‘Project Glass’, which promises to take technological co-presence to a new level. The device is a set of wearable, augmented reality glasses, which connect to the Internet and GPS, providing users with up-to-date information, notifications and news, and allowing connectivity to Google’s vast range of Web services, including the social network ‘Google+’ (Anonymous, 2012). Google even claims that it will be released to the public this year (Claburn, 2012).

Claburn (2012) does, however, list a number of potential issues with the glasses, beyond the usual issues faced by connected smartphones, including: privacy, redundancy, cost, health (radiation), liability and control. As with all technology, we must exercise caution and moderation. Google’s Project Glass has the potential to revolutionise modern communication, work and leisure, but it could also introduce issues impacting privacy and socialisation. Does it really have a necessary place in our already media- and technology-saturated society?