President-Elect’s Column: Sense of Presence

A modern-day lament is that we no longer connect with each other or put the technology away long enough to enjoy a face-to-face conversation.

Jerri Lynn Hogg, PhD

I have been thinking about the sense of presence recently and whether or not feeling engaged in the moment with another is a thing of the past.  It is a common modern day lament that we no longer connect with each other or put the technology away long enough to enjoy a face-to-face conversation.  Intently bent down over smart phones our time together resembles toddlers in parallel play.  Technology holds a prized spot and level of intimacy.  It is not unusual to have several streams of information coming at us at one time from our laptop, smart phone, and iPad.  These multiple screens beg for our attention.

Sherry Turkle (2011) says we are “spending more time with technology and less with each other” (p. 281).  “No one looks each other in the eye,” said a film producer I sat next to on the plane the other day.  “The art of connection is being lost.”  These are the kinds of comments I hear when folks find out I’m a media psychologist.  Are we really nosocializing (sharing a space together but socializing over social networks on a digital device instead of chatting back and forth)?  Are our digital devices more important than our friend standing next to us?

Last summer at the American Psychological Association convention during a talk we asked folks to hand their cell phone to the person next to them.  You can imagine the commotion and some angst as folks tentatively handed over their phones.  And yes, it did take a bit of coaxing and promising that the phones would soon be returned.  This is for good reason.  Our phone has become our prime communication device to not only phone home but to check email, text message, and log onto social networks.  According to some estimates many executives receive over 30,000 emails a year (Mankin, Brahm, & Caimi, 2014).

A reporter recently asked me about a latest hashtag trend and its possible negative ramifications on one’s self-esteem.  Instead of getting into a conversation with the reporter about implications of viewing the media on mental well-being, I told the reporter we can turn it off.  We don’t have to look or search for the hashtag, or turn the application on.  We need to remember we are the media and technology consumers and we have a choice of what and how much we eat at the buffet.

We are spending more and more time with technology.  According to the JWT Intelligence Report (2014), technology is becoming omnipresent in our lives fueling opportunity and a hyper-efficient lifestyle as well as causing angst and possible negative influence on our lives and privacy.  Mankin, Brahm, and Caimi (2014) found 22% of participants attending a 30-minute meeting sent 3 or more emails during the meeting.

We are using technology more but we are also connected more than ever before.  Is the art of connection being lost or just shifting?  What is being lost and gained in the shift?  The lines of distinction are blurring between what is reality and what is virtual.  The sense of presence might not need to include sitting side by side to be powerful and meaningful.  Do we need the physicality to be present and for the engagement to be real? This is an area ripe for research and exploration.


Mankin, M., Brahm, C., & Caimi, G. (2014, May).  Your scarcest resource:  Time is money, but few organizations treat it that way.  Harvard Business Review, p. 74-80.

JWTIntelligence (2014).  JWTIntelligence: 10 Trends for 2014.


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