19.588 attending from and attending to the digital

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 1 Feb 2006 08:46:20 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 588.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 01 Feb 2006 08:44:10 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: attending from and attending to the digital

Let me put a proposition to you that I will shortly be arguing for,
to see what you think of it.

It begins with Michael Polanyi's argument for the place of tacit
knowledge in our use of things, including but not limited to tools.
Like other phenomenologists, he argues that when we use a thing
skillfully, we attend *from* it to the object of attention, as a
blind person, in his or her use of a stick, navigates along city
streets without giving a thought to the stick. But then, for whatever
reason (such as an unexpected hole in the path, or a failure of a
tool), the prosthetically augmented person must attend *to* the
prosthesis, do something about the failure or whatever, until
attending from becomes possible again. This cycle or "see-saw", as
Polanyi says, happens in the context of a perfective cycle, such as
the development of a tool, and is responsible for the improvements.

My notion is that new media studies has a strong relation to the
former part of the phenomenological cycle, the (synthetic) attending
from, while that which we often call humanities computing has a
strong relation to the latter part, the (analytic) attending to.
Those who, such as Brian Cantwell Smith, argue that we build on but
ignore the digitality of our computing tools, or like Chris Chesher,
that the digital computer is dead, belong primarily with the former.
Those who, like me most of the time, who argue for very close
attention to the digitality of these tools, to their Turing
Machine-ness, belong primarily to the latter. But I, in a more
magnanimous mode, now want to argue that as the two parts of the
phenomenological cycle are the yin and the yang of productive work,
or simply of relation to the world, the two great halves of our field
belong together -- that in fact each is becoming inconceivable
without the other.



Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Wed Feb 01 2006 - 04:07:05 EST

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