13.0213 children, the Internet and ourselves

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sat, 25 Sep 1999 12:02:10 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 213.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Chuck Bearden <cbearden@rice.edu> (49)
Subject: Re: 13.0210 children and the Internet

[2] From: Rob Koch <ratburgers@prodigy.net> (15)
Subject: Re: 13.0205 prophylaxis

Date: Sat, 25 Sep 1999 11:49:15 +0100
From: Chuck Bearden <cbearden@rice.edu>
Subject: Re: 13.0210 children and the Internet

Regarding kids, computers, and the humanities:

Yes, we should be drawing peoples' attention to the wonderful things
computers are permitting us humanities folk to create. I think we
are also especially well-suited to explaining why people shouldn't
uncritically accept computing and the cult of information.

Three things concern me:
1. the atomization and commodification of 'information':
Computers, among other technologies, hold out the promise of
information as a commodity--something that can be purchased,
warehoused, and shipped in whatever measure, like pork bellies,
titanium, and brent crude. Information becomes atomized and cut
out of the larger contexts that give it meaning. Information is
power--if you know enough facts, you will achieve your political
or economic goals. Are we overlooking the the contextual
schemata that allow fact a + fact b + fact c to add up to more
than three facts? Are students of whatever age being taught the
importance of these schemata and how to form them? This is of
course an extremely vague idea, and will necessarily remain so in
this email. Perhaps someone else can either expand, or shoot
down this notion. N.b. that I'm not railing against intellectual
property nor against telecommunications.
2. computer-mediated interaction replacing in-person interaction:
There's a big difference between sitting in front of a computer
with a child in one's lap vs. sitting in front of a computer with
a child on other side of the modem, yet people are uncritically
pushing (and accepting) 'virtual communities'.
3. computing changing our habits of mind:
About a year and a half ago I started reading _The future does
not compute : transcending the machines in our midst_, by Stephen
L. Talbott, and published by, of all presses, O'Reilly & Assoc.
I didn't get very far in the book, but it has a compelling premise:
that computers are accelerating negative changes in our
intellectual habits, changes that became noticable with the
advent of the industrial revolution. One rubric under which he
describes these changes is something like 'the abdication of
consciousness to automated processes'. He takes as his guide
Owen Barfield's work on the evolution of consciousness (with
which I have only the most superficial acquaintance). Has
anyone finished this book? Does it seem relevant to this

Best wishes,
Chuck Bearden cbearden@rice.edu
Electronic Resources Librarian
Fondren Library--MS44 713 / 527-8101 x3634
Rice University 713 / 737-5859 (fax)
P.O. Box 1892
Houston, TX 77251-1892

Date: Sat, 25 Sep 1999 11:49:38 +0100
From: Rob Koch <ratburgers@prodigy.net>
Subject: Re: 13.0205 prophylaxis


At the airport yesterday I was reading Christine Haas' Writing Technology, and
she asks right away if we're asking the right questions about computing -- not
the use for the individual, or the cultural statement made by the computer use,
but what exactly is it we're using, how, and why? Those are questions quickly
passed when the mainstream wants a quick -- and as you point out -- ugly answer
to book vs. computer. As educators, we do have a responsibility to speak about
the proper place for both books and computers, and that ties directly to what
Haas suggests we ask in our research. The freshman comp class, or any and
every class where we use computers, is as good a place to start as any. It's
fine to do research for scholarly journals, but how much of the mainstream
really will access Computers and Composition, for instance, just to see what's
new? We would have better luck in classes where there is the immedate question
"why the book AND a computer?" And we'd be better off targeting some more
mainstream journals and magazines.


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