I, Robot

Many of you will have seen the Big Bang Theory episode where the character, Sheldon, decides he will only appear as a virtual presence in the world – as a robot.

When a serious knee injury grounded me from international travel for the foreseeable future, this robot-Sheldon came to mind.

I’d been invited to be a keynote speaker at the inaugural Positioning Theory Research Symposium in Belgium. Flying was out of the question but I was determined to be there. In the academic world giving a keynote address is seen as a ‘big deal’.

I found some interesting websites about travelling by sea in a cargo freighter. No freighter could get me there in time. So move over Sheldon – ‘Mel-don’ was born.


Melanie in Bruges Positioning Theory Symposium




The University of Newcastle’s Information Technology department acquired for my use a “Double Telepresence Robot”. I was going to the symposium in Belgium in a virtual capacity.

We sent the robot to the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies in Bruges, Belgium.

I am happy to report that over the last few days I have participated in the symposium. I delivered my keynote speech, interacted with symposium participants following their presentations and was even able to mingle at break times.

Sitting at various times in my offices on the Callaghan campus and at my home in Newcastle, I operated “Mel-don”. I could adjust my height and my position in the room. I could hear what was going on and respond, just as if I was there.

I work in an emerging field of multi-disciplinary study that applies Positioning Theory to various disciplines. Professor Rom Harré and Professor Luk van Langenhove developed this theory, both of whom were also keynote speakers at the symposium.


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Professor Luk van Langenhove, Dr Melanie James (aka Meldon) and Professor Rom Harré in Belgium.



Instead of missing the opportunity to listen and interact with these eminent scholars, and others such as Dr Christine Redman, the “Double Telepresence Robot” enabled me to “be there”.


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Screen shot from Newcastle.


I had the joy of being present when a Danish researcher, Associate Professor Susanne Kjærbeck, reported positive outcomes of implementing my positioning model for communication in an infection control context in a hospital ward. Already the insights I garnered from these exchanges are informing my research and my supervision of research students.


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Melanie James in Newcastle watches the slides of Associate Professor Susanne Kjærbeck from Roskilde University, Denmark. “Strategic Positioning in and around a Hospital Ward: Communication on Hygiene”


This experience has been amazing. To be so supported in my research by the University of Newcastle is very affirming – so thanks to all involved.

Thank you also to my wonderful colleague, PhD student and positioning theorist, Deborah Wise, for making the Belgium end work so smoothly.


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Deborah Wise, University of Newcastle, presenting her paper on the Positioning of PR in political speeches.


I’m not sure whether “Mel-don” will ever re-emerge but this technology is now available at the University of Newcastle. Who knows where or how it will be used next? Last year Edward Snowden delivered his TED talk about surveillance and Internet freedom via a telepresence robot. From what some see as sublime through to madcap capers of Sheldon, new possibilities await.

Public Relations weekly links shout out

Karen Miller Russell (Associate Professor in Public Relations and Jim Kennedy New Media Professor at Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication, Athens, Georgia, USA) runs a fabulous blog called Teaching PR (http://www.teachingpr.org/).

She has been running this for years and each week provides public relations scholars, students and practitioners with links to excellent content in our field. I highly recommend that you subscribe to her blog if you wish to stay abreast of what’s happening in PR and strategic communication.

Karen’s links have been invaluable in my teaching and research over the years. For example, this week she has shared the following:

Karen russell

Karen Miller Russell

The Week’s Best, 23 February 2015

Big data is also an challenge for public relations and this TED talk video “What Do We Do with All this Big Data?” by Susan Etlinger is excellent, thanks Karen for sharing this an for all the sharing over many years.Karen also recently posted the slides to her lecture on Google Analytics.

You can follow Karen Russell on Twitter: https://twitter.com/KarenRussell


The material or views expressed on this Blog are those of the author and do not represent those of the University.  Please report any offensive or improper use of this Blog to RPS@newcastle.edu.au.
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