[Humanist] 29.452 maker and user

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Nov 4 07:53:05 CET 2015

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 452.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 4 Nov 2015 06:44:36 +0000
        From: Wendell Piez <wapiez at wendellpiez.com>
        Subject: maker and user
        In-Reply-To: <CAAO_-xys7YvYihLgciuk4GVv0s-oiNP=LYz-9839hofMKS41Qw at mail.gmail.com>

Dear Willard, Arianna and HUMANIST,

Arianna writes:

"On another note, personally, while I think it's very important to
craft and play by hand, I am not sure every digital humanities scholar
should be a fully fledged maker (I am aware this debate has probably
already exhausted its flow elsewhere). I believe in communication and
mediation. One has to know how much one can about the human and
mechanic principles of technology but mainly to be able to talk with,
interact meaningfully with and understand those who master them; we
don't all make chairs. Some imagine them and draw them. It's not a
hierarchy, it's a design team."

The reason this has been a problem and will continue to be is
irreducible, on both sides of the "maker"/"user" divide: I like to
call it the "three lifetimes problem". In answering why I do not learn
to do this or that (maybe very enticing and wonderful thing) I
sometimes plead that I will have to do it in my third lifetime. The
first lifetime is the life I am living. The second lifetime is when I
will learn everything I have promised myself I will learn, but cannot,
due to how over-full the first lifetime already is. The third lifetime
is when I will learn everything I would like to learn, but that does
not fit in the second. Fortunately, the third lifetime seems to be
infinitely extensible. At least, it will be very very busy.

But we don't all have to learn everything and there is more to this
than that we don't have the talent -- or just haven't been bitten by
that particular bug. Thank goodness we have each other!

There might, I agree, be more ungrounded theory in the air than there
should be, but when has that not been the case? We can still reflect
that grounding is possible -- and yes, even a "non-expert" can be
grounded if not always by direct knowledge and experience, then by a
critical, realistic and honest attitude, candid if not always
perfectly disinterested -- Keats' "Negative Capability" too can be a
ground. This means that it is also possible -- even without special
expertise -- to tell the difference between claims that are grounded
and those that are not. Yet at the same time, the proliferation of
magisteria is so immense that even the deepest experts can be reminded
of their own ignorance, if they only look up for a minute.

We think it's about knowledge, experience and authority, when it is
first a matter of attitude, the soil in which those other things grow.
(I am only agreeing with Arianna.) Then they grow, and there is that.
Let the big old weeds not crowd out the little ones.

I think a big part of the problem is magical thinking on all sides.
People persist in thinking the machine is magical and treating it as a
kind of fetish, intelligible only to initiates, a site of special
power to be approached -- or guarded -- with enforced reverence and
piety. This includes both those who "don't know" (despite the enormous
amount they may have learned, in this lifetime) and those who
supposedly do, even when their knowledge amounts to how to set up
trapdoors and mirrors.

Whereas the reality is that these machines are powerful and magical,
but only because we are.

Cheers, Wendell

Wendell Piez | http://www.wendellpiez.com
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