[Humanist] 24.766 the potent structure of the online environment

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Mar 6 11:22:52 CET 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 766.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 06 Mar 2011 10:17:38 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: the potent structure of the online environment

In his book, The Uses of Digital Literacy, John Hartley (Queensland 
University of Technology) threads his way through the minefields of 
argument surrounding the notion of popular culture, from Richard 
Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy (1957) -- a foundational text for 
cultural studies -- to the present day. The clarity of Hartley's writing 
would alone recommend the book to our attention, but for current 
purposes I'd like to draw your attention to a particular observation 
he makes about our beloved medium:

> It is no longer an option (if it ever was) to criticise popular
> culture from the outside, because the boundaries between that domain
> and the domain of formal, intellectual, critical, scientific,
> journalistic and imaginative knowledge are dissolving. You can
> *navigate* the online environment to choose social networks or
> entertainment over science or Project Gutenberg, but these choices
> are not *structured* by the system, which increasingly allows
> ordinary people to partake of both popular entertainment and
> purposeful growth of knowledge simultaneously.  (p. 12)

The knee-jerk response of many is openly expressed by unease (to 
put the matter mildly) at the 'anything goes' self-indulgence licensed 
as well as provided by the Web, Certainly, as Hartley goes on to say,

> Not enough 'critical' attention has been paid to what ordinary people
> need to learn in order to attain a level of digital literacy
> appropriate for *producing* as well as *consuming* digital content,
> thence to participate in the mediated public sphere, to pursue their
> own private imaginative desires, to contribute to the growth of
> knowledge, or to develop enterprises and create value (cultural and
> economic) in commercial and community contexts....

Indeed, not enough critical attention has been paid to what our academic 
colleagues need to learn in order to attain such a level of digital 
literacy in order to become producers, not merely consumers of 
deliverables. But, back to the structure that undams the flood, the 
structure (implemented by Google, proposed by the Canadian telephone 
engineer Gordon Thompson in 1979) that enstructures what people actually 
choose to do.

Isn't the lesson here not to fight it (in a fruitless rearguard action) 
but to join it, understand and work with it?


Professor Willard McCarty, www.mccarty.org.uk;
Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/;
Professor, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney.

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