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From tele presence to human absence: the pragmatic construction of the human in communications systems research

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This paper reflects on the views of the human that were oriented to in two distinct research labs and which have been used to populate an inventive landscape over the past twenty years. It suggests that there are commonalities to the views in question, making them essentially the same. Both emphasise body movement at the expense of expression and both, one could reasonably claim, derive from a conceptual dualism as regards human nature associated with Descartes and then adopted by the computer scientist, Alan Turing. The paper will argue that, whatever conceptual dualists in philosophy or computer science might want to claim or emphasise, the use of this view by the researchers in question was not because it offered an adequate ontology but because it was a pragmatically useful way of looking at the world that enabled and helped drive inventiveness. The paper will report on how this was applied in the domain of communication technologies, particularly telepresence type systems. It will remark on the benefits and limitations of this view for the inventiveness in question and how this view led to many technological innovations that have not been widely adopted and to an indifference to innovation in textually mediated communication, amongst other things. The paper will remark on the value this view might have for future research. © 2009 The Author.