[Humanist] 23.311 digital hot

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Sep 22 07:58:48 CEST 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 311.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (46)
        Subject: digital/hot

  [2]   From:    Peter Organisciak <organisc at ualberta.ca>                  (66)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.310 digital/hot

        Date: Mon, 21 Sep 2009 09:32:27 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: digital/hot

Thanks to John Laudun for pointing out that my remarks could be read as
insensitive if not inhumane. Hence my apologies for what they might seem to
imply about an attitude toward the people here. What I intended to say as
groundwork for the question I asked about the current meaning of "digital"
was that in this particular village (which has been working-class since the
great change in population that followed the coming of the railroad in the
late 19C), socio-economic conditions are as good as one could get in this
country to study commonly accepted meanings of words. The chances that
anyone here would read signs with the peculiar mindset I take myself to have
are as close to nil as possible. I know the people who run the camera and
photocopy shop whose sign I referred to, and they, being asked, had no idea
what I was going on about. I daresay that if a linguist were to stroll about
in central London looking for the multiple connotations of words on signs,
he or she would be hard pressed to find anyone who had a clue. Right now I
am wondering about how little clue my colleagues will have when I tell them
about the Dictionary in a formal lecture I am due to give in the early

"Working class" is a commonly accepted term in these parts for an evident
and not by any means always negative designation of how the folks here sort
demographically. It was very interesting for me to discover on moving to
this village 12 years ago how comfortable, indeed proud some of my
neighbours were with that social designation. I expected quite otherwise.
Life, it seems, is more complex than one thinks, or at least as I tend to
think until corrected.

So, this is a great place to study language in the mode of the Dictionary of
Words in the Wild. And collecting for that Dictionary opens one's eyes to
the relation between location and demography, for the appeals made to what
various kinds of people desire. Advertising in Heathrow, for example, plays
on a different scale of wants by means of much more consciously
sophisticated language and graphics -- the designers responsible are, I
would suppose, the best in the business. But the most interesting
environment by far (at least to my taste) is the one I live in. In terms of
the density of words it is far more literate than the posh neighbourhoods of
the West End. (What, exactly, do we mean by literate?)

For us digital humanists what's interesting is the world of others' words we
are now able to construct. The words ARE others', the construction is the
photographers'. So the philosophical problem framing this activity and the
study that comes from it grows rapidly more interesting too.

So what about "digital"?

Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

        Date: Mon, 21 Sep 2009 14:26:18 -0600
        From: Peter Organisciak <organisc at ualberta.ca>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.310 digital/hot
        In-Reply-To: <20090921055104.8004E3BA23 at woodward.joyent.us>

I appreciate your passionate defense of the general population. However, it
seems to be a bit misplaced in this context. The main question is whether
"digital" has become an empty buzzword, intended to make the product it
precedes sound more exciting. Willard's aside that there is, in fact, no
such thing as "digital batteries" seems more to be proof of the throwaway
nature of the word than a slanderous rumination on whether said imaginary
product would be recognized by the general populace.

(Of course, if there were such a thing, then the awareness that Willard and
I lack would be telling...)

Peter Organisciak

On Sun, Sep 20, 2009 at 11:51 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 310.
>         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Sun, 20 Sep 2009 15:15:04 -0500
>        From: John Laudun <jlaudun at mac.com>
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.309 "digital" = "hot"?
> > folks in this neighbourhood wouldn't have a clue
> Really? Really? Have we really come no distance at all in humanistic
> work that we still manage to cast dispersions on people we don't even
> know? I would have thought that digital humanities, which at its best
> opens up possibilities for a larger, more inclusive study of human
> meaning-making, would be the first to trample over the usual
> stereotypes about working-class this or rural that. I recognize that
> the term "digital humanities" is an awkwardly pitched tent that
> includes within its flaps not only what was/is humanities computing
> but also the various emergences of digital media in humanities
> research and communications. For this reason, I would hope that we
> would recognize at least the utility, cum expediency, of being
> inclusive if not the principled reason for being so. As I continue my
> own work into a group of men who invented an amphibious folk boat 25
> years ago, I spend a lot of time thinking about tools, their uses, and
> their meanings. I had hoped that all these discussions about tools and
> prototypes as theories would have opened up our own imaginations to
> thinking about how tools create possibilities, offer the possibility
> for revising a worldview. It seems, in our own case, that our tools
> and our discussions about them have failed us. Our world seems no
> larger than it was before.
> --
> John Laudun
> Department of English
> University of Louisiana
> Lafayette, LA 70504-4691
> laudun at louisiana.edu
> http://johnlaudun.org/
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