13.0179 humanities computing

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 9 Sep 1999 21:43:26 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 179.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Hope Greenberg <hope.greenberg@uvm.edu> (59)
Subject: Re: 13.0171 humanities computing

[2] From: Rob Koch <ratburgers@prodigy.net> (17)
Subject: Re: 13.0171 humanities computing

Date: Thu, 09 Sep 1999 21:23:36 +0100
From: Hope Greenberg <hope.greenberg@uvm.edu>
Subject: Re: 13.0171 humanities computing

Re: ubiquitous computers, beds, and false predicaments:

I like to ask myself short general questions that have been asked
before, not so much to see if the answers have changed, but rather to
see if the questions are now interpreted differently. In this case, the
two questions about "what happens to humanities computing when
computers' are invisible" and "what happens to books/text/media when
it's all bits" came out of five separate events converging during the
recent discussions about New Media. They were:

1) remarks by a colleague in History expressing surprise that his
students seemed more adept at "close reading" films than literary texts

2) a quote from a recent interview at TechWeb
(http://www.techweb.com/wire/story/backtoschool/TWB19990907S0005) with
Prof. Michael Kahan wherein he's quoted as saying, in part: "I did an
experiment. I gave a lecture and videotaped it. Half the class watched
me give the lecture. The other half, I played the videotape of the same
thing. The part that watched the videotape -- the electronic part --
absorbed much more than those who watched me give the lecture. The
electronic presentation had their attention much more than the personal

3) conversations on e-docs (to which, I believe, several of you here
subscribe) on that annual favorite topic: "the book is dead" (with most
of the usual arguments and counterarguments presented--I won't
reiterate, I'm sure you've heard them)

4) recent conversations with my 15 year old daughter who last year
joined the ranks of chat room enthusiasts, and who doesn't seem to
differentiate, at least by language, between her face-to-face friends
and her online friends

5) a conversation with my seven year old daughter. I brought her with me
for "distribution," that day when the on-campus computer store and its
temporary volunteers, deliver over 700 computers to incoming freshman as
they are moving into dorms. She asked me why the students were getting
their computers from us, and didn't they already have some? I told her
that some students brought their own, but some had ordered computers
over the summer and were picking them up now. She then asked "why don't
the dorms just have computers already in every room?"

Now, while that last may say more about her notions as a young consumer
than it does about ubiquitous computing, and while it still shows that
she considers computers an "other," a specific stand-alone consumable,
it also reminded me that her perceptions about computers and computing
are, and likely will continue to be, different from mine.

Your bed example from MIT, Willard, along with other work at MIT in
wearable computers, provides that same jolt of "paralax moment." So, do
I wonder what we humanists will do with the supercomputers on our desks?
No. I assume we'll use them for e-mail like always. (small joke,
couldn't resist) I can accept that the metamorphosis of The Computer
does not necessarily mean the end of computing or to put it another way,
that the computing humanist's "problem [that] has always to do with the
fuzzy boundary between computation and knowledge" will still be tackled
by something resembling computational means. But when I hear phrases
like "books will never die" (as if there ever was and always will be
one unchangeable thing that is a Book, into which all knowledge is
bound) or "we shouldn't just study texts, we should also look at New
Media," I have to wonder if we can be complacent about the scholarly
apparatus we are building. What assumptions underly the models of
scholarly enquiry being developed today, and will they, like the
technology we are building them on, seem laughably archaic to my
daughter's generation in a dozen years' time? Is that avoidable?

- Hope

hope.greenberg@uvm.edu, U of Vermont

Date: Thu, 09 Sep 1999 21:24:04 +0100
From: Rob Koch <ratburgers@prodigy.net>
Subject: Re: 13.0171 humanities computing

I'm studying Technology and Composition right now, so this blurb will take that
angle... given that teaching in this field has become, in part and should you
choose to accept it, to teach students how to become technologically
proficient in research and in writing online and with technology, as long
as technology changes, the need to teach new ways of doing these things
should persist. The computer may become ubiquitous, but the changes
shouldn't stop -- I think they might even become more radical as the
technology is more available.

> > What happens to arguments of "is it book/text/media" when it's all bits?

Check Negroponte's book -- Becoming Digital -- I'm only part way through
it, but it seems to me that the struggle is still in getting it to the
point where it IS bits... politically, legally, etc. And we'll just have
to change gears, start thinking about the new set of problems that will
accompany "bits."

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