4.0508 Computers for Faculty (2/124)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 19 Sep 90 23:47:02 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0508. Wednesday, 19 Sep 1990.

(1) Date: Wed, 19 Sep 90 09:53:38 BST (50 lines)
From: Donald A Spaeth 041 339-8855 <GKHA13@CMS.GLASGOW.AC.UK>
Subject: Computers for Faculty

(2) Date: Wed, 19 Sep 90 17:58 PST (74 lines)
From: Ru-Fan <T121267@TWNCU865>
Subject: Computers for Faculty

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 19 Sep 90 09:53:38 BST
From: Donald A Spaeth 041 339-8855 x6336 <GKHA13@CMS.GLASGOW.AC.UK>
Subject: Computers for Faculty

I read Malcolm Brown's anecdote with some amusement, since my job
is to discuss computing with a large number of harrumphing historians!

But computers CAN come in the way of research in ways which I'm
sure everyone has experienced, by requiring one to spend potentially
large amounts of time tinkering. As we know, in the short term
computers are not a labour-saving device. But even in the longer
term, academics are faced with a choice between learning about
software/hardware or keeping up with their field. I feel in
an enviable situation in that I'm paid to play around with
history and commercial software; but my research has suffered
considerably. Computers, like administration, can give one
the false sense that one is accomplishing something, when in fact
one is completing a series of small, relatively irrelevant tasks.

And, of course, the software itself can lead the computer-conscious
historian to concentrate on problems easily soluble by computer
(although this is less a problem than it was). Developing
one's own software is no solution, but only a larger distraction.
The tool-oriented approach is, I'm convinced, the right one;
but not all historical projects may be best served by use of the
computer. So I may invest large amounts of time learning about
software/systems that I may not need for my next project (if I
ever complete my current one!) and will be obsolete when I
next decide on a computer-based project.

(Before I am assaulted, let me stress here that I am distinguishing
between such uses as word-processing and bibliography and
and note management, on one hand, and analysis. The latter is
my focus when I mention projects for which a computer may or
may not be appropriate in the previous paragraph.)

These points seem sufficiently obvious to be hardly worth making.
I make them to counter the almost universally positive answers
the question has received to date.

Should every lecturer have a computer on their desk? Yes,
if they ask for it. And with suitable software.

Now for the next question: should every lecturer have their
computer and software replaced in 3-5 years? I suspect that
universities have not yet woken up to this requirement!

Don Spaeth
CTI Centre for History and Computing (UK)
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------75----
Date: Wed, 19 Sep 90 17:58 PST
From: Ru-Fan <T121267@TWNCU865>
Subject: Computers for Faculty

Malcolm Brown's remark of Tues 18 Sept. that

> the computer could be an *impediment* rather than an assistance to research.
> Certainly there are times when we can't get the silly box to boot or do
> something we want, but might there be a deeper sense in which the computer is
> an impediment to research?

> I personally find it difficult to think of the computer as an impediment, as
> long as one doesn't forget that the computer is a research *tool* and not
> some kind of a research performing device.

is well worth serous and perhaps much much deeper reflection especially
on the part of those of us who,through regular use, have become addicted
disciples of the computer. Trying to be honest or at the least acutely
aware of one's shortcomings and excesses is not necessarily something
that scholars especially excel in. We naturally tend, like everyone
else, (and we can even be more insidious and self-deceptive in our own
defense) to rationalize and find support for those activities to which
we devote our time and energy.

Using a computer at this point in history has taken on the kind of
religious zeal that one tends to associate with crusaders and so there
is the danger of overlooking or avoiding the dark or negative side of
things. It seems essential as educators that we be willing and able to
step back and see where we are and where we are taking others. Just
think of how much time each of us has spent: learning to use hardware
and software; dealing with virus and virus protection; system
maintenance; backups; keeping abreast of the torrent of new products
that make everything we have labored to learn instantly obsolescent; and
answering the endless reams of e-mail that deflect and distract
concentration and often seems to be drowning us in inessential trivia

Does anyone who regularly uses a computer still remember the blissful
moments of rapt, creative contemplation that one experienced before the
advent (A.C. After Computer) of the computer. I still believe that our
best research grows out of a tranquil mind. Imagine where Plato would
be if he had spent most of his time monkeying around with a computer.
Let's not kid ourselves. The computer is, as Brown said, just a *tool*
and when the tool begins to become more important than its use, begins
to accrue to itself almost supermundane powers, it's perhaps time to

More important perhps than a quick search and find operation is the
creative spark that sets us about looking for something. And that
creative spark, at least for me, arises only after long periods of
silent and focused meditation and concentration. Although it's possible
to be mindful about doing anything we must face up to the fact that
using a computer is not the most efficacious way to reach satori. Nor
is it necessarily the best way to improve your intuition or foster
creative insight. A flurry of activity and increased facility at
organizing and analyzing vast amounts of data is no substitute for
creativity in our research. We seem to be spending an excessive amount
of time either manipulating or thinking up new ways to manipulate vaster
and vaster amounts of data.

We are (whether we take the responsibility for it or not) rearing a
generation of young people who may never have the option we had to
choose to be without a computer. As we seem to be part of an
ineluctable tide we had best begin to seriously put our creative
energies into envisioning what that tool should be like. For me the key
is transparency, total transparency. Only when the computer becomes a
totally *transparent* tool will I feel more comfortable and more willing
to wholeheartedly join the crusade.

Robert E.Front Taiwan Mail: Chung-Da Syin T'sun #37
English Department Chung-Li
National Central University Taiwan R.O.C. 32054
Chung-Li PHONE : 888-3-490-6606
Taiwan R.O.C. 32054 FAX : same as above
BitNet : T121267@TWNCU865