Let’s share some experiments here…
A friend has a student working on embodiment and the digital, so I started a quick bibliography of conversation partners that have been helpful for me in this area. Perhaps these voices might stimulate new experiments among us?
Please share any emerging or remaining questions you have here.
If hybrid is hard and expensive and if we are unwilling to remain committed to efficient production/consumption as a dominant value, how will we incentivize investment and participation in these hybrid embodied spaces?
Please share your key learnings here on our discussions of “in-person” or on your experience with “in-person” since our time together engaging this piece.
Every Embodiment is Socio-Technical
It is crucial for us to develop more nuanced terminology and practices to express the values, possibilities, and limits that come with our varied embodiments in-person together.
If we do not, I worry we will become even less collaborative in our co-evolution with technology as persons and as communities. Interrogating the technologies and the socio-technical dynamics involved in EVERY embodiment will help us get clearer on which in-persons best afford the values we are after for a given encounter.
Hello! I assumed we would edit this section of the piece in pub-pub and re-publish a new release. Yet, when I went into draft state to add some more things to this section, our collaborators were no longer in-person in the margins of the piece. So, I have decided instead to use this discussion space to extend this section for further publication.
And a last point it the question of group experience:
In retreats, I can usually rely on the group “carrying through” single participants who dare to open up and sometimes crack a little as they face fears or express inner realities they had not had the chance to find words for before.
In my personal experience so far, this group feature does not work in the same way in online retreat meetings. This time, I felt the whole weight of maintaining the framework on my shoulders as the retreat leader, rather than as carried jointly by the group. But this practice of maintaining the framework, at least to me, seems to be an integral part of many learning processes, especially from the perspective of a holistic individual development.
This is the sort of design question that Michael and I work on all the time. My hunch again (and, I know I’m a bit of a broken record here!) is that most of us are just more familiar with the onsite experiences (such as retreats) and so we do certain practices “automatically,” and these don’t simply happen automatically in online spaces — so, I think of it as a learned behavior, rather than a “natural” one, and one that serves some folks better than others. As we interact in online spaces, we might need some patience, coaching, or new practices to be able to reach similar experiences to those familiar onsite ones — and, as we do that, it gives us new opportunities to reflect again on those onsite ones, making the familiar curious, and perhaps recognizing a bit more clearly for whom such practices work (people who are used to the “culture of retreat,” people who are confident in their voice or compliant enough to answer questions or uncomfortable enough with silence) and those for whom they work less well (in my context, that would include women and people of color, who are often silenced or unheard by white men, as well as folks with certain cognitive or emotional differences).
Still, I really appreciate your nudging about how close and distance engagement are different. You (during the zoom call) and Michael (in this paper) mentioned smell — we can each engage scent individually online, but we cannot directly share that experience — and your comment about “virtual beer” reminds us that while we can each have a beer as we gather online (I still have a body, and it still likes beer!), we cannot pour a beer for each other (at least, not the same way). It may be that technology in the future helps mediate some of these gaps, but they still are not the *same* experience. That’s where a lot of my curiosity and energy comes from — not trying to make them the same, but unpacking more carefully what it is that makes them different, and then noting that “onsite” includes just as many differences within itself as it does in the “gap” between onsite and online (in other words, it’s just as interesting to look at the differences *within* a given category as it is to look at the ones *between* the two categories, which again raises the question of what work the categories are doing for us and whether it’s the work we want/need them to do.)
Another point would be distortions of the communication through the boundaries of technological means. If everyone except the speaker switch off their microphone, this creates the perception of an “intense silence” listening to the speaker.
In the pastoral context, in which I work, this can even be intimidating. To solve this problem, we started to have one or two further mics open, just to slide in the occasional “mhm” and “oh, yeah” that helps avoid the worst distortions of the communicative reality in the group.
This is a fun point! I wonder, though, using the earlier question of whether we’re all cyborgs anyhow, whether it might be possible to note that all communication is distorted? For example, the way I hear my own voice (tone, pitch, etc.) is different than how you hear my voice, whether we are sharing the same space or connecting via “technology.” And, the sounds I make as words and sentences are already different than how those ideas felt in my head or body in the first place.
I agree about the complexities and, perhaps, unfamiliar distortions that happen via various sorts of media and technologies. Your example here is a really nice one of how it’s more than just “zoom vs onsite” (and, especially, more than just the distance or the impact of video) that we need to consider. And, again, thinking of how to make soundscapes more inviting in online spaces (adding in some background noise or verbal cues) reminds us of the same need in onsite ones (e.g., so many folks with hearing aids or hearing loss find many gathered spaces confusing or exhausting because there are too many superfluous sounds).
I wonder about the role of (so-called?) authenticity in this discussion.
One feature of authenticity seems to be un-filtered expression of an inner reality. E.g. that is what Youtubers often do: They film their immediate reactions to something and at least create the impression of un-filtered reaction. Realilty TV shows do something similar. Scripted as these video clips might be, they do convey an idea that the authentic reaction is the immediate reaction, without the possibility to “photoshop” your inner reality into something else.
Maybe, asynchronous contacts are seen and understood as not authentic in that sense. If I take half an hour time to answer a WhatsApp message, I have the possibility to consider implications of the written onto the relationship with the addressee, and usually I will retype parts. That takes away “authenticity” if it is construed in the way sketched above.
Charles Guignon, On being authentic, was quite an eye opener for me in this context.
This is where the binary is so problematic for me — at least in my context, people are much more likely to name synchronous as authentic and asynchronous as less/not, as you note here. But we can think of plenty of examples (as you share here) of synchronous experiences being clearly filtered and crafted, or of asynchronous ones being raw. In part, this happens as we shift the lens of what we mean by those two terms (does synchronous mean you and I are encountering each other at the same moment, or does it include the youtube videoer when I then watch that video later)? Adult learning theories, for example, often suggest that some learners (sometimes called “introverts” but also including folks with cognitive processing differences) can be more “themselves” when they have time to reflect and express themselves slowly (e.g., in a term paper), rather than dealing with the anxiety or external-processing demands of being called on in a class. And, as the earlier example of love letters might suggest, it’s possible to imagine someone being more their authentic self (whatever that is!!) when they do have the chance to retype parts, so that the words end up “just right”. I like adding the question of authenticity to this mix; it makes the questions more complicated I think, not less.
Yes: totally agree!
Yes: great point!
Reading this i associated the distinction of medium and image in our paper: If people use the binary of “in person” and “not in person”, this could be interpreted as them having gotten used to neglecting the medium that affords (your term) this specific “in person”-experience while their attention is still drawn to the medium that affords the online encounter, which makes it feel less real to that person.
@florian, I really appreciate your language here of what we’ve “gotten used to neglecting”
Great point: totally agree. That is what we try to emphasice with Belting’s term “medium”, the material dimension.
Totally agree: great point!
Great question! We always relate through interfaces, but perhaps we have inadvertently privileged the face, and eye contact, making it a synecdoche for temporal-spatial material encounter.
audio is the most vulnerable for me as a user, but video is most vulnerable as a producer.
How about thinking through affordances from an ability perspective as well? I wonder how written text versus audio and software that afford both creates opportunities across sensory abilities.
I tell my students to imagine they are having a conversation with every author when reading. Think of them at your dinner table and engage! I think they need this embodied visual to dismantle power differentials.
I don’t think I have overtly heard this point in the text yet that asynchronous is less than in terms of presence or “realness.” I hear colleagues make this assumption about courses all the time. Would we say the same thing about a snail mail letter or thank you note?
Thanks for this observation @kate. In my context — and, particularly as we’re redesigning events and learning experiences — I hear this all the time, that the synchronous is better than the asynchronous, in part because it is more real. In fact, the new ATS accrediting standards, which are mostly flexible regarding modality, limit online/non-residential PhD programs to only be synchronous, because of an assumption that asynchronous ones would be far less real / rigorous / engaged / meaningful. But, in this case, the parallel to snail mail holds a bit, there’s some concern that asynchronous would be like correspondence education, by which I think they mean it would be transactional rather than engaged/real?
Interesting that the wiki link is almost devoid of non-male references. danah boyd has written a lot related to digital tech and affordances often with social nuance.
Very helpful transition. I was thinking of a spectrum after reading the last few sentences. This is reminding me a lot of gender constructions.
This also makes me think of the classroom experience where everyone is seated around a table with their laptops and phones running at the same time.
We say “on campus” as we consider any synchronous experience as “face to face”. I think people slip up and use in person a bunch to describe both. But, this still leaves the notion of asynchronous as not “in person”.
I wonder if there are questions f trust that come up here - do we trust that the other person is ‘really here’ when we cannot verify it so clearly though body language - does it require different and new ways of trusting to create shared intimacy in virtual spaces
I would trouble this. People can manipulate your attention or their attention/presence standing in front of you and I don’t think it is that difficult.
i love this idea of paying attention in a certain way as ‘bringing your person’
@Selina this reminds me of the work of Sallie McFague and others who talk about “attention epistemology” as a deeply embodied practice.
oh gosh, I’m just realizing what a problematic phrase this is!
My presence certainly shifts when prompted turn reading into an active (vs passive) activity!
All of these are, also, diaconal question. People who are deaf/mute, who suffer from throat cancer, who are hard of hearing (hearing aids amplify and warp voices), who are hypersensitive have similar experiences.
Agreed. I think this brings up lots of questions related to crip theology and theory as it often intersects with things like assemblage theory also interested in what defines “person” or human.
Zizek argues in a similar fashion about the epistemic benefits of the category of “sex”. Sex creates a “minimal distance” instead of absolute intimacy, and this minimal distance enables us to actually perceive.
What I hear in Barthes, Foucault, and Derrida is that
I believe you.
Maybe we should experiment if something like https://www.wonder.me is making any difference at all? If so we could ask why that might be.
I agree that wonder.me is an interesting case study. It raises issues for me about movement, autonomy, and privacy as social functions that demarcate certain definitions of in person.
I wouldn’t dismiss it completely, though. Martin Kusch and others have worked on the question why it is that large group of gobally distributed scientists are funded to meet “in person” every three months (think large groups of physicists), and the answers might have something to do with implicit, tacit knowledge that is hardly shareable via channels that are designed (affordances) only to what we think is worth sharing: information (knowledge-what). But we actually might have little insight into how we actually constitute knowledge (in a nonreductive sense).
@Thomas, i really like your pushing us to consider tacit Knowledge seriously and what interfaces afford it. Have you encountered Michael Polanyi’s work on the tacit dimension?
I believe we should focus on knowledge-how and the tacit dimensions of “working together”, be it online or onsite.
I always wonder if it is really physical (as in spacetime) synchronicity which is the deciding factor. I know people who will watch the football game from last night the next day without looking at the results first. Do they refrain from cheering in front of the TV because it “has already happened”?
@Thomas This is a great example, thank you! I’ve wondered sometimes whether it’s an interpreted synchronicity rather than a real-time one (with all the usual caveats of the complexity of those words). But I think there are still some differences. For example, if I’m watching the game the next day, I will cheer … but I won’t try to place a bet or gamble on the game, and I probably won’t wear my team’s shirt that day, and I might not even do whatever my superstitious practices are (e.g., with baseball, folks sometimes turn their hats inside out in the last innings if their team is behind, as if that might make a difference in the final score). I might also pause the playback of my game in order to attend to my family or take a phone call. But you’re right that there’s a very different experience of a/synchronicity here than if I’m, say, rewatching a tournament game from several years ago, or having the nightly sports roundup in the background when I already know the outcome.
Let’s try to talk more about this term today @thomas!
I ask myself from time to time whether “enactive” instead of “embodied” would be a more helpful term..
Anybody with friends, who, instead of having one phone call, rather send six voice messages, can attest to that.
I really like this because it inverts the absence-presence debate. Is our real fear not that “the world” might be less present, but we ourselves? Is it - in the semantics of my own paper - due to the simultaneity of all function that we tend to view ourselves more as brains in fishtanks than as “whole persons” in front of a display?
Yes, David Foster Wallace uses a similar strategy in some of his texts. But the textual 4th wall is a tricky one to break. If we all used this device, would it still “work” or would it become “dull”?
To me, Q’s of the textual 4th wall are intertwined with ones of intended audience. These invitation spaces, for instance, imply an active, current reader/participant and their effect will change for someone reading this, say, in a year when conversation here has slowed or stopped. The device becomes impactful out of this sense of readership, not because it’s inherently exciting or dull. I would flip your question a bit in answering and say if we all used this device it wouldn’t work because it’s not the right device for all [intended] audiences + texts. Improperly deployed, it becomes annoying!
This makes me wish I didn’t have to cut my paragraph on recursion and self-referentiality… 😅
Can I comment HOW AWESOME I find the way you are making use of this very medium here to not only involve the reader in the conversation but actually performatively make your points?
Audio - and I have no idea, why..
Can we think about the virtual as a additional layer of reality, as an augmentation? This is how I feel while reading a good book or an interesting paper.
@frederike Maybe a layer that’s added and some that are lost? I’m still taken by Michael and Br. Wolfgang’s comments about shared experiences of smell (and, of beer!). I don’t want to lean too much into the “lost” side, since I think we lose less than what folks commonly assume (or, the loss is due to design or habit rather than media or space/time), but I also keep wanting to explore how the experiences/encounters are not “same”.
For me, this questions only makes sense in a relational understanding of “in-person”, metioned above.
We might also argue that she is more “in person” rather than less as the various people and spaces that form her relational personhood are part of the class experience in a way that traveling to a school building cuts them off from her interaction and their possible presence (known or unknown) in the room that morning for class.
Would you say, a medium is an interface in a very basic sens? We tried the notion of a “bridge” in our paper and I wonder whether the notion of the interface might possibly deepen it.
I still like this notion - it was convincing in your understading of Scripture, Michael, and intrigues me here!
It seems, you might switch the understanding of time from a ontological to a relational perspective. A/synchronity thereby becomes a way of relating to one another - or?
Taking up Frederike’s point and going further: What is the notion of time implied in the messy binary of a/synchronicity and what is the notion of time in your kaleidoscope (great metaphor btw ;))? Ist “time” and “chronos” the same?
I might loose the point here: Would you say, “a/synchronous” is kind of a term of relation - describing the way one experiences the relation to one another and therefore constitutiveli linked to a community/other? Or does it also describe experiences of ones own? Or am I on the wrong track?
Hmm, good question. In my context (my workplace, and academic conferences more generally), my experience is that folks often talk about the zoom/synchronous part as the “meeting” and the asynchronous part as “before-the-meeting” or “after-the-meeting” regardless of whether that work is done alone (e.g., reading papers) or collaboratively (e.g., commenting on papers, having discussions like these in the margins). I’ve caught myself in other settings describing asynchronous as “on your own” or “at your own pace,” even though it’s not necessarily either of those things (e.g., these papers had a deadline). This is where I would default back to the kaleidoscope — we often talk about either a binary (it’s either synchronous or asynchronous) or a continuum (it’s either more or less synchronous or engaged) when I think instead it’s a whole constellation of factors which can exhibit more or less of certain characteristics or experiences.
I would add space here, as hanna suggested above
I would alos love to think ybout the relation of ”person” and “body” - maybe looking back on the discussions in 2019 at the last workshop. Why do we relate these terms so easily?
@frederike, this is similar to the image/medium pairing, yes?
It is virtual as any reading is a partly virtual experience for me - it takes me “to another place” while sitting at my desk feeling the sun on my legs and looking on the Black Forest outside. So its definitely “in-person”!
Does our double understanding of virtual make sense to you at this point, Debbie and Michael?
It changes - you start a discussion with me and - even without any co-presence or synchronicity - I feel adressed by and in conversation with you.
Regarding digital worship I stated once, that missing nearness in time and/or space can be filled (bridged?) by interaction and participation in order to build a community. This definitely works here!
Same problem of terminology here as mentioned in the discussion of our paper. It’s interesting how deep even our terminological struggles are trying to cover what the difference is regarding digital mediatization. I see three main areas in expressed in often used terms: space (as hanna mentions), time (as you say) and “body/physical” (as I try to explore relating to the term “person” in the discussion on our text). Would you add something?
See here the discussion on our paper on “person”
The audio in some way feels more intimate - I have a fuller reminder of Michael’s character and even his physical presence than from merely reading his text - but on the other hand it also feels oddly LESS personal to me on my end, since I have less opportunity to shape the encounter. In a text I can adjust the speed at which I am reading, skip over parts, linger over others, return to a key passage and ponder it, which affords me much more personal engagement on my end, whereas the voice might just run by me, relentlessly pursuing its own thought at its own speed, mindless of where I am, even losing me as I still ponder something that was said a minute ago…
I had the same feelings as Hanna. And as I know Michael, but never met Debbie before, this definitely made a difference to me.
Is it a closer/more explicit relationship to time, or is the time simply more homogenous and linear (“straight”!) in audio than textual encounters?
I wonder whether the work done on different temporalities could also shed more light on the work our “synchronous”/”asychronous” binary is doing, what normativities it imposes, and what limitations it veils?
I am interested in your use of design language here (I have recently dappled in understanding theology as “conceptual design”, working up affordances etc.) - is it intentional? What is your insight behind it?
“Face to face” in a way that there is much less escape from “the other” encountering me here than in a shared physical environment which also affords plenty of distraction.
There is much more “face” in Zoom than in a conference room…
I resonate with this a lot. Why is it that we also need to categorize things in binary relationships, which indeed is not just saying that they are opposites, but that one is the absence, deprivation, and negation of the other and to be considered “worth less”?
Coming to an understanding of difference beyond that is worth much.
Concretely, my students tell me this, and it is true in my own life as well: Many of the relationships I mostly engage with “online”/”virtually” are much more personal and meaningful for me than many of the relationships that take place in shared physical space (and time).
I can totally agree. The focus chosen media allow - e.g. the necessity to talk on phone while one can ignore a person standing next to you - emphasizes different aspects of relations and forms them differently, but not at all in a binary or contradicting way!
The shift between your two perspectives is really quite interesting in this text. The experience of what work the “in-person” is doing changes a lot depending on your two different experiences of the whole situation.
@Hanna Michael keeps reminding me that the in-person is local :)
I don’t think that I have
is the online-onsite binary you introduce here coextensive with the virtual-inperson one you introduced (and challenged) earlier? does it afford more clarity? or is reality equally more messy than this one as well?
woa how very psychodelic of you
Agreed! Btw an interesting third term is “face to face” - people are using it all the time to mean the physical copresence, when in fact zoom/webex “virtual” meetings afford much more actual “face” to “face” interaction than most “in-person” settings…
I agree - with you hypothese and Hannas comment on “face to face”
That might actually be a better criterion than the one I spontaneously formulated above. If I sit waiting for another’s response as they are formulating it, and they sit waiting for mine, then the conversation takes place “live” and thus in some way synchronously, even as it may be temporally distended (we may sit waiting for someone’s response letters longer than we do in a chat). But then it would not depend on the medium as much as on the personal engagement. And a communication may appear asynchronous to one side but may be experienced as synchronous to the other.
In any case, then, it seems that a technology which actively prompts that you “should be waiting” as the other person is “right now” formulating their response then seems to afford synchronicity in the sense of inviting and facilitating this kind of waiting engagement
Interesting point, Hanna! This as well applies to others forms of communication: If I sit in a conference not expecting to be adressed or not interested in the discussion at all, for me the discussion might not be “live” in the same sense than it would be if I took part of it.
For me, right now, it seems most like a personal and synchronous interaction between Debbie, Michael, and Amy, which I witness in a kind of second-order observation asynchronously.
I agree with Hanna
I wonder what theological notions of “personhood” (e.g. with regard to God!) might contribute to this discussion - maybe that angle would help to decenter the assumed necessity of temporal and spatial proximity for something to be experienced as “personal”?
This point might also be interesting regarding the focus on “body” as physical materiality. Maybe we can think about that relating it to our thoughts on the (re)presentation of the Body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper? Or is this far off your interests - as my head is stucked in the debates on sacramentality and the digital? ;)
what I also find really interesting is the shift to a temporal lens (a/synchronous) to describe an initially spatially distanced experience of interaction (“socially distanced” and thus communicating “virtually” rather than in physical co-presence)
Yes! Our relationship to time in this is so interesting. Made me go back to Bergson on time and duration. Now my head is swimming/drowning :).
I love how you are inviting us into the conversation - I love the thinking-together of that in the first place, but even more how it directs the attention at the complexity of presence, increasing it even more with the “asynchronous” reader experience and engagement “after” your written text…