[Humanist] 26.189 readers and machines

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Jul 27 01:22:03 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 189.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2012 08:45:48 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: designing ways of being

No doubt the finely produced TextGrid film, "Virtual Research Worlds",
announced in Humanist 26.186, will be useful in attracting students and
helping to explain the digital humanities. But I wonder: what are we saying
when we say that a human being can read 4,000 books in a lifetime and then
zoom on to show machines of amazing capacity doing their work? Isn't it a
category error to equate the act of reading with the action of fetching and
processing? Isn't reading more than the physical operation of handling a
book in the way a reader does? When reading is reduced to physical handling
of a codex, it then becomes possible to compare a lifetime handling of books
to fetching and processing of the incomparably greater amount of data that a
machine can handle. And so the human reader comes out looking rather
inferior. It would then seem only a matter of time until the machine
encroaches even more on the human than it already has when one thinks in
this way. Why have the reader at all?

Why the mimetic logic of replacement? Why are we driven to assert, for
example, that close reading is out, distant reading in? Why must the
availability of a million books drive us to argue that slow reading of a
single book is, well, no longer cool? Why must we cripple ourselves by
presuming that humans have no other capacities than our marvellous machinery
can augment? (I think these are very interesting questions to be asking,
not just rhetorical flourishes of an exasperated cane-thumper!)


Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
(www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

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