[Humanist] 31.465 not reaching for the smartphone

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Dec 14 09:45:21 CET 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 465.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:24:39 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: not reaching for the smartphone

The Norwegian lawyer, art collector and explorer Erling Klagge, in his 
book Silence in the Age of Noise, describes sitting at the dinner table 
with his children, recalling the time when they were possessed by wonder:

> Questions and answers, questions and answers. Wonder is the very
> engine of life. But my children are thirteen, sixteen and nineteen
> years old and wonder less and less; if they still wonder at anything,
> they quickly pull out their smartphones to find the answer... their
> heads are now filled with more ambitions than questions.

In response to declarations of progress, I am fond of saying that 
there's always a tradeoff. Here too, it seems. And here too it's a 
matter of how the tool is used: going googling is a highly effective way 
of discovering, through the ocean of secondary sources which quickly 
stretches beyond sight that there's more to comprehend than can be, and 
so more to wonder about than can be extinguished with answers.

Dame Gillian Beer, writing about interdisciplinary research, worries the 
problem of competence. In academic work is this not always the close 
companion of curiosity? Beyond the practicalities of how to find out 
about a discipline one needs but does not have, what is the training 
required? Is there any beyond the experience of doing it? I worry the 
problem of how digital humanities is to engage with all the disciplines 
it needs given that untrammelled curiosity and its articulation in 
doing interdisciplinary work is given so little attention.

In his "Human versus mechanical intelligence" (1996), Turing's friend 
Robin Gandy quotes Donald MacKay’s comment that attributing 
intelligence to machines “would not primarily be a matter of using 
evidence and knowledge, but a matter of having the nerve." I 
propose Erling Klagge, who has reached the North and South Poles 
and the summit of Everest, as a fine example for the digital 
humanist to emulate.



Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor emeritus, Department of
Digital Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western
Sydney University and North Carolina State University; Editor,
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20)

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