[Humanist] 24.512 excitement

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Nov 23 07:42:22 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 512.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 22 Nov 2010 17:19:47 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: the vocabulary of acceleration?

Articles that look like they might be interesting to me end up on my 
machine's desktop and eventually get a closer look. One such article, as 
I began to read it a few moments ago, seemed to cause in me an almost 
physiological reaction -- a breathlessness, a raised pulse, a strong but 
unfocused anxiety. This made me curious. I calmed down, then using a 
digital highlighter marked the vocabulary of excitement -- or of 
acceleration, as I am tempted to call it -- in the first paragraph. Here 
is what I found:

> ...grow more and more encompassing in scale and the repercussions...
> ever more accentuated... transformations... already profoundly
> motified... significant influence... transforming... modifying... The
> time is not far off... everywhere... embedded within the bodies of
> each one of us... keep control over every aspect of our lives...
> efficiently and effectively carry out multiple tasks...
> transformed... winds of change... giving birth to a new culture...
> major challenge... even more tiny... faster... more refined...
> radical changes... this revolution... provoke...

I am not saying or implying that the author is wrong, nor that getting 
excited about the changes afoot is mistaken, nor that the breathless 
style (practiced so effectively by Clifford Geertz) falsifies that which 
it expresses. Rather I am suggesting that there's more to this 
excitement than meets the eye. It's not hype, any more than the 
writings of experimental artists in the 1960s was hype. 

I think back, for example, to the breathlessness with which the 
world-changing, mind-changing, scholarship-changing potential of 
hypertext was announced. I think back to early days of Humanist 
when cries of those professing to sink beneath the waves of infoglut 
were loud and frequent. I think about what Vannevar Bush, for example, 
said about the overwhelming volume of scientific publication in his 
article on the Memex in July 1945. Or, to go further back than my own 
life reaches, I recall Leibniz's dire prediction in 1686 that "this 
horrid mass of books that goes on constantly increasing is creating a 
confusion that is almost impossible to overcome" and will lead to 
disorder, a distaste for the sciences, hence mortal despair and 

These moments of dissolution and re-formation are, at least to me, very 
interesting indeed. What is going on? We are (to join the game myself) 
in the midst of one now. Perhaps we should get excited about that -- 
rather than, thanks to the Semantic Web or whatever, about no longer 
having to wonder whether granny has taken her pills, or forgetting to 
pick up Fido at the vet's?


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

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