4.0517 Computers as Tools (was 'Computers for Faculty' (2/52)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 20 Sep 90 19:32:02 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0517. Thursday, 20 Sep 1990.

(1) Date: 20 Sep 90 00:19:59 EST (13 lines)
Subject: 4.0508 Computers for Faculty

(2) Date: Thu, 20 Sep 90 07:42:43 EDT (39 lines)
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: impedimenta

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 20 Sep 90 00:19:59 EST
Subject: 4.0508 Computers for Faculty (2/124)

Yep, computers are tedious things to fiddle with sometimes. The analogy
worth keeping in mind is the automobile. To own an automobile in the
1920s meant knowing a lot about spark plugs and tire-patching, but lots
of people had automobiles and got places and were glad they did. I
figure we're up to about 1927 in computer-world on that analogy. If
spark plugs and tire-patching are too much nuisance for you, then by all
means, PLEASE, walk to where you're going, because the rest of us
already spend enough time pumping up tires for friends who don't bother
to learn how.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------50----
Date: Thu, 20 Sep 90 07:42:43 EDT
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: impedimenta

The question raised by Malcolm Brown, then carried forth by Drs. Spaeth
and Front, is whether computers can be an impediment to research. All
cogently recognize that enthusiasm for our marvellous gadgetry can lead
us from research into temptation, and worse. God knows it is hard enough
to face beginning a project, or pushing it through some bad patch. What
a blessing it may seem to have something mechanical one MUST do BEFORE
one can get started.... (such as read one's e-mail from Humanist). And
there are worse, and more permanent seductions-by-computer, but never
mind. Dr. Front speaks about the desirable "transparency" of the tool
-- Beatrice Ward's contentious phrase to describe perfect typography was
"a crystal goblet" -- but I wonder. Can any tool or medium really be
transparent, i.e. something we look through without our sight in any way
being affected? Haven't we learned from Innis, Havelock, McLuhan, Ong,
and others that what one says is inevitably changed or even determined
by what one says it with? (I struggle not to say, "the medium is the
message", because it isn't, but the antithesis isn't true either.)

The job determines the tool, the tool determines the job, but in the
midst of that resonance is mind, our minds -- if we have any! Again and
again, it seems to me, we're brought back to the question of desire:
want is it that we want? To be more specific, how to we conceive of our
research such that it can be helped by these machines? Are our
conceptions good ones?

Let me propose one additional alternative. It is said that manipulation
of the yarrow stalks is the best way to consult the I Ching. Perhaps
this is because the complex activity of shifting around those stalks
distracts the infernal mental busybody by giving it something to do, so
that the normally unreachable resources of the questioner have a chance
to be heard. Of course there are practical advantages, but playing
mental solitaire with the computer does in my experience assist
contemplation. Now pardon me while I shlepp my busybody mind off to work.

Willard McCarty