19.312 contemplation and computing

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 3 Oct 2005 07:57:45 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 312.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: "Amsler, Robert" <Robert.Amsler_at_hq.doe.gov> (38)
         Subject: RE: contemplation and computing

   [2] From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois (31)
         Subject: Re: 19.301 Contemplation and time to think?

         Date: Mon, 03 Oct 2005 07:43:35 +0100
         From: "Amsler, Robert" <Robert.Amsler_at_hq.doe.gov>
         Subject: RE: contemplation and computing

I am very surprised that people think computers are behind a loss of
contemplative reasoning ability. There is a culprit, but it isn't
computers (unless you intend "computers" to represent the whole
spectrum of computer chips that make modern technology possible). The
culprit seems clearly to me to be cell phones. Think about it, what
distinguishes today's youth from previous generations. They have cell
phones and use them continually for communication. The conversations
I have overheard lead me to believe that instead of "thinking" about
anything, today's cell phone generation call their friends and family
instantly--avoiding "thinking" about what should be the solution by
starting a discussion of it with their peers or friends. Cell phone
users seem to fear NOT being on the phone. Like a long uncomfortable
pause in a conversation--they fear long periods of quiet time when
they would be alone with their thoughts and seek to fill that void by
calling someone--if only to ask, "What are you doing? I'm on the
train/bus/in the library." This "pinging" of their peers substitutes
for thinking, engaging the brain in idle chatter. There was a great
line in the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" concerning why humans
seemed to always say aloud the obvious. It ran something like this,
the conclusion was that they were afraid their mouths would seize up
if they weren't constantly using them. I think cell phones have given
voice to that fear on a scale and with a range never before possible.

Probably my next culprit would be blogs. Why ponder the answer to a
question--instead just post it to your favorite blog and allow the
community to debate its points. No need to form your own opinion
based on days, weeks or months of independent thinking--you can just
dump the question into the blog and watch others arrive at a
conclusion for you.

The computer information system and the growth of the Internet as a
search enviornment has curtailed the time it takes to look up facts,
but that merely means one CAN find out whether Iceland or Finland has
colder winters a lot faster and perhaps contributes MORE to reasoning
than the book resources available to previous generations would have
allowed. Finding information faster doesn't decrease reasoning. It is
the lack of quiet time that empties minds.

But, what do I know, I'm a member of the "older generation" now.
Those for whom using a phone to contact someone was itself the
product of a reasoned though process, debating whether it was a
sufficiently significant matter to justify disturbing their privacy.

         Date: Mon, 03 Oct 2005 07:44:39 +0100
         From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
         Subject: Re: 19.301 Contemplation and time to think?

Hello Adam,

I was struck by your use of the word "contemplative". To mind my it is not
the same as "critical thinking". Indeed, the contemplative mind set
suspends judgement. Although there may be an adjudicative dimensions to
the high degree of sensory play at work in contemplation, it is not one
of truth valuation. One decides to continue or to abort. That is the sort
of decision that is quite common in the interchange between humans and
computing machines.

You might be interested in knowing that there are communities of practice
that wed and weld contemplative methods with network interchange.

I am thinking in particular the developer and users of the I/O/D 4: The
Web Stalker. It is a "browser" that provides a window into a running
stream of HTML markup [The stream is created by the application accessing
the files through the URLs present as links in the initial file; the
application can also graphically render the relations between the linked

Subscribers to Humanist will be able to contribute other examples from the
studies in visualizing information. Not to privilege the timescapes of the
eye alone, I do want to point out that the MacIntosh provide very
interesting material for auditory contemplation when one used/uses the
text-to-voice synthesizer on a language other than the one the application
was designed to take as its base. Others may have other examples where
output refreshes the status of a peripheral basis and so marks the passage
of time and serves contemplation.

A blinking cursor, a counter, the whir of a fan cooling hardware, white
noise, from one set of devices becomes the input for an other --- as some
of your respondents have indicated there is a long tradition of pairing
the games of chance with the arts of transcription.

Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
~~~ to be surprised by machines: wistly and sometimes wistfully
Received on Mon Oct 03 2005 - 04:49:07 EDT

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