11.0307 identity, education, connection; e-publishing

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Tue, 30 Sep 1997 08:45:08 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 307.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (87)
Subject: gleanings

[2] From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca> (33)
Subject: Endowed Journals

Date: Tue, 30 Sep 1997 08:30:00 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: gleanings

A couple of items from the local press.

(1) The first is from John Lloyd, in "The self-inventors: New Labour's
artists of a floating world and the tests they face" (TLS 4930 for 29
September), reviewing <cite>Life after politics</cite> by Geoff Mulgan,
newly appointed advisor to Tony Blair. He quotes Mulgan on the invention of

"If you no longer automatically take your identity from your origins, you
can make it yourself. If it is no longer given by your race, your parents or
your village, you can define yourself as you like, even choosing your own
name and inventing your own history. You can submerge yourself in another
given identity -- perhaps as a member of a religious cult, a follower of
sport, a member of a subculture -- or you can make an entirely distinctive
identity out of the materials around. On the Internet you can play and mimic
identities: a child can play at being an adult, a man can play at being a
woman. You can also invent a persona with its own history, prejudices and

In my experience (I tried this once) creating a new persona is not terribly
difficult but maintaining it, in its own voice, is. A more interesting
question, however, is the relation between Internet personae and the person
in other modes of being. We have tended to think of the shock of meeting an
Internet-only friend face-to-face as a matter of our perceptions of him or
her, but surely it is more complex than a one-way error. Who we become by
virtue of the medium in which we are becoming must have to do with something
"between". Again McLuhan's "global village" metaphor misleads; perhaps
"global theatre" would be more like it?

Another theme in Mulgan's work (from the recent book <cite>Connexity</cite>,
and now a theme running through New Labour, is the role of government in
social services, including education. Here the ideas are not all that new,
nor unique, but when spoken by such a person they take on the weight of
public policy. These touch intimately on what we are about when we teach our
students, in particular when we are teaching them humanities computing and
explaining what it is for:

"In a world where governments can no longer exercise much sovereignty either
over their defenses or over their economies, the best service they can
perform for their citizens is to help them to be stronger, more responsible,
more capable of making decisions and understanding the world in which they
live. Narrowly this means providing them with skills to make them
employable: the habits of being disciplined and flexible, creative and
adaptive, able to speak many languages and work with many different
technologies. More broadly it means helping them to look after themselves
and to care for others, helping with life skills and emotional intelligence
rather than just the analytical intelligence that older educational systems
valued so highly. But there is a moral dimension, in that a more connected
world brings with it a moral duty to consider the effects we have on others
and a need for a moral fluency that goes beyond simply learning codes of
right and wrong by rote. For moral as well as practical reasons we need to
think in a different way, understanding the world as made up of complex
systems rather than linear relationships, ecologies rather than machines....
if we want to make a better world then it is with ourselves that we have to
start, and amidst the interdependence of connexity we need much stronger
characters, more sensitive, more emotionally literate, more morally fluent,
than in a world made up of separate villages and households who could rarely
do much harm to anyone but themselves...."

I quote this at length because it articulates quite well the increasingly
common view of what education is for and because, again, it puts our
technical concerns with electronic communications into a broad social
context. Humanities computing responds easily to the demands for employable
skills and disciplined thinking, and brings the student directly up against
the consequences of a densely interconnected world. What's missing in the
above, however, is the Socratic function, the sharp and often unwelcome
probing of assumptions and received knowledge. Do we draw the conclusion
that in order to avoid the hemlock we conceal our deeper purpose in a
socially (or at least governmentally) acceptable packaging?

(2) Andy Beckett, in "Sound bytes" (Guardian Media section, 29 September),
writes about the unlikely success story of the very different computer
magazine known as <cite>Mute</cite>, published from "half an upstairs room
in east London" by Skyscraper Digital Publishing, Shoreditch -- the creation
of some former art students in their late 20s. What's remarkable about it is
the coverage of our electronic culture. "They ponder. And what they
conclude, while slightly too thick with French philosophy and the thrill of
a good dictionary, is original and brave. Mute criticises American
cheerleading about digital technology ('implacable in its certainties . . .
uncritically reproducing the views of the extreme right'); it celebrates
office workers who adapt their computers for illicit ends; it recommends
thinkers with contradictory things to say. In short, it treats computer
culture as an ambiguous and uncertain scramble, as a recognisable example of
human endeavour. Half of Mute's readers are women."

The article is online, at <http://online.guardian.co.uk/paper.html> (the
second item) as is a version of Mute itself, at <http://www.metamute.com>.
The latter is very much worth a look, even if all you're interested in is
the design of Web pages.

Comments welcome, as always.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk

Date: Mon, 29 Sep 1997 16:12:43 -0400 (EDT)
From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Endowed Journals


The Beyond Print conference on Scholarly Publishing and Communication
<http://citd.scar.utoronto.ca/EPub/1997.html> got off to a very
intersting start with Sally Brown (Association of Universities and
Colleges in Canada) raising the issue of the surrender of copyright.
Why should the results of research conducted in publicly funded
institutions be bought back by those same institutions because
publicaction passes through commercial hands?

Much discussion centred on costing models. It seemed evident to all
that subscription was being replaced in the short term by a variety of
of arrangements. Most notable: user pay and page costs (authors paying
for the "typesetting" fee - apparently a quite common practice in some
of the sciences)

Stevan Harnad the keynote speaker strongly suggested that preprints
and reprints be freely available via the Internet. The stress was on
FREE. Of course the pressure is then on peer reviewed journals whose
objective is scholarly communication to become freely available.

Jean-Claude Guedon reminded folks that the system of scholarly
communication was commercialized in the 19th century in response to
self-censorship on the part of learned societies (in regards to the
touchy topics of statistics and phrenology). Well let me assure
that whatever the average distribution of cranial bumps in the
assembled audience lots of grey matter was heating up. Jean-Claude
Guedon did not fail to remind us either that in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries in Europe, learned societies exchanged journals.

Following some very informative presentations about the nitty-gritty
of actual publishing ventures, an audience member asked (I'm
paraphrasing) if it were not time to make the business case for
"endowed journals"?

I unfortunately could not attend the concluding sessions and so am
unable to report the effect of such a bold call for a return to the
patronage model.Perhaps news will reach you through the ether of the
invisible college or the relays of the official proceedings.


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