[Humanist] 24.920 in denial

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue May 3 07:07:22 CEST 2011


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 920.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Martin Mueller <martinmueller at northwestern.edu>          (200)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.917 in denial

  [2]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (21)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.917 in denial

  [3]   From:    Ernesto Priego <ernestopriegor at yahoo.com>                (284)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.917 in denial


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sat, 30 Apr 2011 06:24:03 -0500
        From: Martin Mueller <martinmueller at northwestern.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.917 in denial
        In-Reply-To: <20110430063550.31E17139011 at woodward.joyent.us>

The problem with saying that "the computer is just a tool" does not lie in
applying the phrase "just a tool" to a computer but applying it to any
tool. Some tools are more important or consequential than others, but any
tool that is worth its salt is more than "just a tool," whether it's a
book or running water in your house, to mention "just" two deeply
transformative technologies that in various ways have changed the way we
live.



--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sat, 30 Apr 2011 08:57:44 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.917 in denial
        In-Reply-To: <20110430063550.31E17139011 at woodward.joyent.us>


I don't think that we need to assume digital humanists are motivated by
either fear or condescension when they ask, "How much of the technology do
we really need to know?"  I think there are quite a few very practical
concerns involved too, especially about how large curriculum requirements
are, or how large they can be, in practical terms.  Or about how much time
they can reasonably spend given departmental demands on learning a second,
almost completely alien field -- one that would require a return to calculus
classes at some point.

I think the ideal digital humanist would be a double major.  Short of that
ideal, since technology is being used in the service of humanities study,
the digital humanist should be a humanist with substantially more knowledge
of the available technology (and how it works) than his or her peers, but
that may come short of having a second degree.  In that case, a tech. person
of some kind would always be required.  I don't think a digital humanist
needs to be a computer scientist, though, any more than a computer scientist
needs to have a Ph.D. in English or Art to be able to contribute.

I don't think that we should be asking, globally, if the computer is "just a
tool," but asking that question specifically.  A plain text document
produced by a typewriter and one produced by a computer will be read the
same way.

Jim R



--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sat, 30 Apr 2011 10:11:07 -0700 (PDT)
        From: Ernesto Priego <ernestopriegor at yahoo.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.917 in denial
        In-Reply-To: <20110430063550.31E17139011 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear all,

...but what do we *mean* when with the phrase "just a tool"? When is a tool really "just a tool"? 

Desmond Schmidt recalls McLuhan, but it's hard not to think of Martin Heidegger's "The Origin of the Work of Art" (1977: 143-87). Heidegger's ideas on techné also informed Fredric Kittler's thought on technology (1994, 1999), and I would have thought it was an accepted notion that tools (and technologies, and techniques) are never neutral, i.e, they are never "just" anything, in the sense of "simple media" (a medium, a channel for spirits). 

Computers *do* stuff without direct human agency, or, if you will, betraying human agency. Computers are not only/always what *we* (whoever we may be) would like them to be. They mean different things in different contexts. Unplanned phenomena takes place when computers are at work, when they are designed, made, produced, sold, distributed, etc. The word "computer" itself is not neutral, not unbiased, not unloaded with discursive, political, ideological charges (cathexes?)  

If Willard's question was not rhetorical and there is indeed still the possibility there might be such a thing as "a mere tool" (i.e., a neutral instrument without agency or meaning of its own), how could this be justified? In my opinion, thinking avant la lettre of the computer (in general terms) as "just a tool" would be a sad symptom of depoliticisation. 

Best regards,

Ernesto Priego








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