Webcam

Above: A Trust 120 SpaceCam webcam. Credit: Simonzfn.

Internet cafe

Above: An internet cafe in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2005. Credit: Subhi Hashwa.

Telepresence

Above: Bill McKibben, an American environmentalist and writer, attending the 2006 Stanford Singularity Summit via an HDTV telepresence system. Credit: Null0.

Web-cam sex

Above: Live Jasmin screen-grab, 2017. Credit: Virilian.

Videoconference

Above: Videotelephony in use in business. Credit: Fuelrefuel.

Videotelephony

Videotelephony, video chat (e.g., Skype, Facetime), establishes the individual as a tele-presence. To the extent that a network of tele-present humans, "will soon replace the network based on the physical proximity of actual people (GA: 35)." This is a trend--an ineluctable drift--that has become endemic to the "globalitarian" era (Virilio's portmanteau word is a contraction of globalization and totalitarian) which is dominated by "simulators of proximity (GZ: 41)." This trend is unwelcome and detrimental to human relations. What emerges is a scene replete with dissatisfaction, vexation and annoyance as, "loss of immediate contact induced by tele-technologies" leads to "social frustration (DS: 92)." For example, there is a definite "foreshortening" (i.e., distorting, disfiguring) of human sexual relations taking place. What emerges is a mediated sexuality--one that is definitely indivisible from, and always connected to, a technical object (AD: 88). The widespread use of digital devices for social interaction represents a qualitative downgrade of interpersonal human social relations and in fact brings to the fore the "desertification of real presence ... with the loss of physical contact, the screen of the terminal pulverises the impact of emotions once shared (CP: 138)."

For several millennia the bedrock of human social relations has been local and face-to-face communication--all our civilizations to date have been dependent on this factor. The consequences of substantive changes to complex and nuanced social ecosystems as a consequence of dematerialized and delocalized socialization are unpredictable and unknown. Any such changes are high-stakes because the basic foundational components of civilization are being altered. Due to videotelephony, what seems to be emerging is the "disaffiliated" human--a person inherently disconnected from organic peer structures that have been so crucial to the successful functioning of human civilizations (particularly the city) (GA: 58). This "transpolitical delocalization" is "now overturning the geopolitics of settlement in the age of globalization (FI: 2)."

One consequence of the prominence of videotelephony is a general decline in non-verbal communication skills: nuances of body language and gestures are decreasing in importance (UD: 106). What remains of non-verbal communication has become limited and generic--a daily pantomime takes over from a former epoch in which suggestion and poetry-in-gesture once flourished (UD: 106). In an era dominated by the telepresence communicating face-to-face and in-person becomes an important and basic activity of resistance (VW: 88). In terms of sensory data, the move to videotelephony-based social relations privileges above all the sense of sight; senses such as taste and smell have been incrementally denigrated (GA: 38). This privileging of just one of the human senses is extreme and has led to our arrival "at the dawn of a new form of madness, la folie de voir," or "seeing madness." A pathological state allied to the perversion of voyeurism, or "having to see at all costs (GA: 38)." It can be argued that videotelephony conversations are often held precisely in order to avoid a face-to-face encounter (UD: 98). The face-to-face encounter has become troubling precisely because it cannot be clicked off, or flicked off, at any moment. It is easy to love a person who is at a distance and a remove from one's immediate concrete proximity, to "love thy global neighbour" is something like the maxim or motto for the digital communications era, but it is an empty appeal. The exhortation to "love thy neighbour" as it is understood in Christian teaching is something very different to the Internet motto: it is the ability to show tolerance, compassion, understanding and support to those who are causing a definite disturbance, annoyance, or intrusion into one's existence--"because they're present, because they smell, because they're noisy, they bother me and they summon me, unlike my distant neighbour whom I can [simply] zap [switch off] (VW: 42)."

The question then is "how can we survive the instantaneous telescoping of a reality that has become ubiquitous ... beyond the horizon of tangible appearances? (OS: 37)" Or, it might be asked, what is the distance between two individuals on a videotelephony chat connected by fibre-optic cable or satellite mobile telephony? Ordinary descriptions of geographical distance are no longer crucial. The distance between the two can be theorized and hypothesized, and whether it be via the scene or arts-and-humanities (e.g., Blanchot) or the scene of conventional scientific research (e.g., Planck) the conclusion is definite: long-distance telepresence produces an irreducible or absolute gap between the interlocutors as regards presence (OS: 38).