21.133 two threats

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2007 07:37:12 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 133.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2007 07:05:22 +0100
         From: Mark Wolff <wolffm0_at_hartwick.edu>
         Subject: Re: 21.129 two threats

On Jun 25, 2007, at 2:55 AM, Humanist Discussion Group (by way of
Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:

> >The Google Book threat is just a new form of something that has been
> >happening all along, and it is part of the anti-intellectualism that
> >has ebbed and flowed for ages. Very serious indeed, but not new, and
> >not within the gates. The burrowing into specializations, and so
> >becoming blind to the need to connect, is more serious because many
> >of our colleagues suffer from its effects, and it's extremely hard
> >to combat because reaching out takes so much work unlikely to be
> >rewarded. It's an enemy within....

It's not so much anti-intellectualism as it is that commercial
technology seems more efficient. Why spend money on text encoding
and analysis when Google will do it for free (well, as long as we
look at their ads)? Amazon poses the same kind of threat with its
ability to seach the full text of many of the books its sells
online. The threat is that the added value of specialization
humanists bring to digital media is not perceived worth the cost.

> >Heidegger's point as you've articulated it defines the deeper
> >intellectual struggle, and so the imperative for a comparative
> >epistemology. But though I'm with Steiner about Sein und Zeit, I
> >cannot get terribly excited about Heidegger on technology. Yes, we
> >imprison ourselves and always have. But bursting through the prison
> >gates remains possible, on new terms with new means. Not all
> >downhill since palaeolithic man learned to flake stone.

I tend to think of technology as a kind of trade-off between one form
of knowledge and another. Two examples: with the ubiquity of
computers in schools, students are becoming less proficient in
handwriting. I attended college in the mid-80s when most students
were still using typewriters. The process of writing was very
different then, and at the risk of sounding like Sven Birkerts I
think students produce different papers today. They eventually learn
to use cut-and-paste responsibly, but the experience of preparing
paper drafts with pencil and paper before committing them to a typed
draft has obviated a certain kind of attentiveness to text. But it
is true that technology has occasioned new perspectives on text. To
see things in a new way is to forget the old way. The other is
starting a fire. Anyone who has backpacked in the wilderness knows
how helpless he or she becomes when the high-tech camp stove won't
light and the matches are wet. Palaeolithic man knew stuff we have

As I remember from my reading of Heidegger, technology is part of
humanity's Being. Avoiding it or reversing it would be to deny who
we are. To be fully human is to reflect constantly on our Being,
including the ontological effects of technology.


Mark B. Wolff
Modern and Classical Languages
One Hartwick Drive
Hartwick College
Oneonta, NY  13820
(607) 431-4615
Received on Tue Jun 26 2007 - 02:52:51 EDT

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