Monday, September 10, 2012
Entry 5: Countdown
It's hard to directly connect each of these articles to one another. Though there's lots of overlap in terms of topics and themes, there are so many issues in play over such a long period of time that specific connections are either impossible, or so strained as to be irrelevant. Many of the issues proposed in the earliest articles have already been solved. Many of the concerns highlighted in later ones are already affecting us. The Digital Humanities - indeed, the entire digital landscape - have become both exactly what the experts thought they would be and something entirely unexpected.
A metaphor, then, to tie everything together: These articles are a countdown.
Every issue presented by Kirschenbaum and Fitzpatrick has been alluded to since (for the purpose of this class) as early as the 1980s. The two most common concerns can be neatly summed up as follows: Information technology will change everything. Even the seemingly impregnable fortress of academia will be affected. It's going to happen sooner than we think. We need to get ready.
Lanham and Slatin started by arguing that the digital world has a place in the humanities. Slatin's comparison of hypertext to printed text and Lanham's predictions about interactive text, cross-disciplinary "remixing" and copyright concerns both serve as the start of the countdown. The basic message of both articles is to tell those who study and teach in the humanities that the digital isn't just another medium to consider and study, but something that will produce profound changes, both socially, and towards the very foundations of University culture and funding like publication, research, disciplinary organization. Even our credibility will be up for debate.
Cooper, Faigley, Hawisher and Selfe are the clock counting slowly down. Cooper and Selfe first tried to show how digital technologies could be used in the classroom in specific ways, ideally to empower the students and create an alternative to the more hegemonic structure of the lecture halls. Their arguments, though perhaps overly optimistic, were written to convince instructors that the digital could - as opposed to the traditional view - be used to empower rather than alienate the oppressed. Later Selfe engaged with the other side of this coin, showing the consequences of misusing technology - or worse, ignoring it (not unlike an appeal to someone who denies the danger of a ticking timebomb). Next came Faigley's assertions that technology, if properly engaged with, could both give our students increased social awareness, and combat the practical issues facing the Humanities since the Reagan era: our growing identity crisis and our mounting fears of disconnect from and obsolescence within larger communities (concerns that are referenced by Lanham: "If we decide once again to view technology with a hostile eye, this time we may find ourselves making the pianos while someone else makes the music" ). Each of these articles pulls the Digital Humanities closer and closer to the realm of academia, starting with the outskirts of the theoretical and coming, inexorably, further and further into our classrooms. The clock is winding down.
As we come to Kirschenbaum and Fitzpatrick, the age of digital humanities is already upon us. The focus of these articles on questions of definition and practical application shows that, whether we like it or not, technology is inextricably linked to the work that we do, and we will have to negotiate a complex series of concerns that many academics had never even thought up for debate. Both articles seem intended to allay the concerns of more traditional academics, while at the same time outlining how best to cope with this new pedagogy. Kirschenbaum states that "At its core, then, digital humanities is more akin to a common methodological outlook than an investment in any one specific set of texts or even technologies" (56). Fitzpatrick worries over the specific term used to describe this area of study, so as not to seem like the field is "about mere digitization," stating that "Digital humanities thus grow specifically out of an attempt to make 'humanities computing,' which sounded as though the emphasis lay on the technology, more palatable to humanities in general" (2) and that "The state of things in digital humanities today rests in that creative tension, between those who've been in the field for a long time and those who are coming to it today, between disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity, between making and interpreting, between the field's history and its future" (4). Both articles attempt to redefine the digital humanities as something different from the Romantic conception of technology as an oppressive force that dehumanizes all that it touches (a concern echoed by Selfe in her description of how technology can be misused in the classroom), and instead cast the digital humanities as less about using technology, and more about understanding and navigating technology's impact on the human condition. This seems, to me, partially designed to make the study more palatable to traditional humanities scholars, while at the same time reminding them that more changes are soon to be coming. The countdown has reached zero. The question now is whether it's attached to a timebomb or an alarm clock.
Botter and Grusin's notion of Remediation seems like an ideal approach to considering technology in the classroom (though I think that their emphasis on Virtual Reality is a bit outdated in comparison to the current prominence of Augmented Reality. Think about technologies you use today, like the ipad or smart phones: These don't insert us into the world of the computer, they "scatter computers and computational devices throughout our world" and create a "distributed cyberspace" ). Our students are constantly remediating everything: they watch TV shows through digital streaming media and then discuss those shows in online forums. They play video games with people in different countries and then bring the tropes from those games into other modes of popular culture (see: Chiptunes). They even remediate the classroom experience. On one level, they use technology to engage our classes in ways that are "highlighted and represented in digital form without apparent irony or critique" (45) by using our discussion boards, posting assignments online, and using spellchecker to help with the formatting of their writing assignments. On another level, they "refashion the older medium [our classes] entirely while still marking the presence of the older media" (46). Every time a student looks up an article on wikipedia, complains about an assignment on Facebook, or asks an online penpal for help on an assignment, he or she is redefining the traditional learning experience on his or her own terms. Acknowledging and accounting for that, and encouraging our students to think critically about when and how they do it (as they inevitably will) is the key.
Even scholars can benefit from remediating their academic practices. One of the most interesting quotes from Kirschenbaum's piece describes how Brett Bobley used the medium of the internet to evaluate the strength of methodology for studying the medium itself: "I jotted down a bunch of names, including humanities computing, ehumanities, and digital humanites. When I got back to the office, I Googled all three of them and 'digital humanities' seemed to be the winner" (57). This, I think, is the greatest strength of remediation online. Because the internet is a crowd-sourced body of knowledge, it can also serve as an organic way to evaluate and measure the strength of one's academic ideas. In searching for the best term to describe the digital humanities, Bobley used the very medium to discover the most prominent (and therefore most palatable) term. In this way scholarship and medium shape one another, forming a perfect circle (or, more appropriately, a blinking red zero on the face of a digital alarm clock).