11.0415 flying meat boomerangs

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Mon, 24 Nov 1997 20:09:53 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 415.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Sun, 23 Nov 1997 19:38:28 +0800
From: Chris Floyd <cfloyd@carmen.murdoch.edu.au>
Subject: Helping Flying Meat Not

[The following follows on a discussion between Dr. Floyd and me concerning
what is and is not within the scope of Humanist. We both hope it provokes
some discussion. --WM]

For the term Humanist Discussion Group is to have any sense apropos of "the
application of computers to the humanities" it needs to incorporate the
human dimension as it involves thinking, feeling people moving into the new
world. That is, "the application of computers to the humanities" should not
be some insular ivory tower Nero fiddling thingammy. Eventually the already
holey instutions will gape open, the corpse of academic freedom choke on
its phlegm, as the new blood oozes offshore cyberspace wise.

Issues of humanist concern need to include:

*The whole new world order as it relates to global employers & electronic
money with the high end of Metropolis throttling away on their keyboards
whinging about over work, & the rest expected to clean their shoes, wash
the car, walk the dog, wipe the babies' bum, ..., be starved, raped &

*The dumbing down of society at large, where the push for market matching
education pares away the intellectual, esoteric & innovative options,
leaving a prescriptive regime of vocational/technical training.

*The resultant busy work produced by computers which is enlightening NOT
because of the money preoccupation & the disillusionment of many,
especially the young.

I apologise for being Australian here, & not doing a poncy kowtow. Language
is crucial & I only have to quote this weekend's edition of Murdoch's _The
Australian_ where the economics editor writes that economists are
recognising that "if unemployment is to be seriously tackled the welfare
function has to be removed from the labour market". Now perhaps you
guys/gals out there can bring all your humanist computers to bear on
deciphering this message, but I reckon it means eliminating the welfare
option, ie. abrogating any responsiblity for the effects of economic
management, making sure that those on the edge have to prostitute
themselves, beg, borrow, steal, anything. To talk about a "welfare
function" is dishonest, similar to US military-speak.

As a person with 20 years computing experience & a humanities background,
the fact that there is an area referred to as 'humanities in computing' or
a permutation thereof is exciting. However, such being reduced to AI & text
processing is depressing.

Here, & I'm sure elsewhere, there is a lot of flak aimed at the internet
literate, as if they are spoilt kidz, even if the Corps. Inc. & other
institutions are trying to jump on the bandwagon. The message of this is,
computer nerds are dangerous unless they are happy family consumers or
on-the-ball economic saviours.

Ultimately, I believe the tool of internet communication is powerful & will
undermine centralising tendencies. This means efforts to create code
standards & be preoccupied with e-text esoterics can quickly become
redundant. Handed down standardisations can easily be circumvented, for
political reasons, ie. the entrenched interest may be contrary to the
impetus of many communications. The key is to field the human issues. The
vitality of 'new' communication is an ephemeral thing. While I have been
enthusiastic about the possibility of a martrix of literary e-text, I am
also realising that the user pays gates & the possibilities of e-texts can
be counter productive, that in many respects, it is preferable to go to a
good paper library for literary research.

I also believe that the future of 'humanities in computing' necessarily
involves the interface between the humanities episteme & contemporary
expression as facilitated by computing, ie. not driven by such, or any
other agenda, especially economic.

Which side of the World Order do you wake up in the morning?


Dr Chris Floyd
Phone: +61 8 9339 0490
Fax: +61 8 9385 7443

Humanist Discussion Group
Information at <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>