Social Presence and the void in distant relationships: How do people use communication technologies to turn absence into fondness of the heart, rather than drifting out of mind?
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In general terms, Social Presence is a feeling of togetherness regardless of spatial or temporal separation. It is a socioemotional attitude that reflexively centres on other people, via perceptions of their affective attitudes towards oneself. Communication technologies contribute to the maintenance of close personal relationships by facilitating welcome and timely socioemotional presence in the mind of an absent other. Presence of this kind may be ‘in the moment’ of communication and also persist over time, as it is ‘topped up’ through repeated interactions. In this paper, we consider how type of personal relationship and degree of physical separation might condition the Social Presence value of a range of media. We report ratings of Closeness and Social Presence that were gathered over 21 days by 64 participants about the close personal relationships that were meaningful to them. We contrast the communication media they chose to use across four relationship types and whether separations were in the same or in a different city. Our findings are used to discuss new ways of thinking about the connection between people who care about one another, and the meaning of the void that separates them, through the time course of Social Presence and Closeness experiences.