Review: “Innovation Everywhere: Tech & Ideas”

I chose to review The Daily Californian’s week-old “Tech & Ideas” issue because of its timeliness and its proximity to Cal students. Unfortunately, my review itself was not so timely and so you’re reading this after the 24-hour deadline.

But whatever time you read this, I think this special issue of the newspaper is relevant for our class as we think about not only the future humans, but also the human and the humanities.

First of all, the article “Google Glass review: I was a glasshole for a day (And yes, they made me look like a massive douchebag)” made me think immediately of Molly’s cybernetic eye implants in Neuromancer.

But more specifically for our class’ purposes of studying the relationship between the human and the humanities, another article talks about how the humanities are getting a makeover through the innovation of the digital library. Speaking of “the marriage of technology and the liberal arts,” otherwise dubbed the “digital humanities,” projects are in place to make books accessible online for researchers. The project also seems to aim to “update” the humanities, which is interesting for us to think about in relation to Snow’s argument of the two cultures of two different kinds of intellectuals. Do the “traditional intellectuals” need to be updated? The D-Lab digital library implies that we do, and I wouldn’t say that they would be wrong. But traditional intellectualism will not be “updated” just by translating books into digital media. Regardless of what form the books take, a scientific textbook is still going to be read mainly by scientists and The Odyssey is mainly going to be read by “traditional intellectuals.”

This leads to the overall optimistic view of the editors that the humanities and the sciences are already joined together at the hip in our tech-savvy society. Something I think  we have to consider in light of “the Human and the Humanities” is a section that the editors have to offer us in their note: “The musician is a physicist; the writer is a mathematician; and the philosopher is an engineer.” The editors proclaim that Cal is this haven of interdisciplinary bliss. While I would love to sing the praises of our university, particularly on Big Game Day, I would argue that it’s a little more complicated than that. There are plenty of engineering students who still complain about humanities breadth requirements and humanities students who hate their science requirements.

If we truly want an integrated, “general” education, I don’t believe we are there yet.

Finally, just for fun, here’s a lovely story about human-alien interaction in the monstrous sense:

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2 Responses to Review: “Innovation Everywhere: Tech & Ideas”

  1. “But traditional intellectualism will not be ‘updated’ just by translating books into digital media. Regardless of what form the books take, a scientific textbook is still going to be read mainly by scientists and The Odyssey is mainly going to be read by ‘traditional intellectuals.’”

    I’m not so sure. When a work is locked away somewhere—accessible, but not immediately so—and when people have to go out of their way to find that work, much less read it, only a small handful of interested parties will ever actually see the text. Those who might care enough to read something, but not enough to chase it to the ends of the earth are weeded out, and the text gleans fewer readers. But if, on the other hand, a text is digitized and made publicly available—made convenient—it can hold onto those readers: casual readers who tend to be reading for pleasure, outside their field, and in their free time.

  2. mercerism says:

    Once the technology advances to a point where I’m willing to actually use it regularly (the ability to annotate digital texts as easily as I can physical books, basically), I think my scholarship will be altered in some fairly meaningful ways. For example, I occasionally want to refer back to an earlier passage in a book, and get an impulse to push ctrl+f. When I realize it isn’t an option and that I’ll have to actually flip through the book scanning for the passage, I get a little disappointed and frustrated, and if it’s not critical to what I’m doing, I’m as likely to just give up. Likewise, there are scholarly projects available now that were impossible, or at least prohibitively tedious and time-consuming, before the availability of computers and digital media. For instance, statistical analysis of word usage frequency, sentence length, and other syntactic features allows scholars to more accurately identify portions of texts that were contributed by collaborators or editors. This is an ongoing debate with regard to the works of Shakespeare, and perhaps technology can shut the conspiracy theorists up. Likewise, these techniques can be used to identify anonymously or pseudonymously published works by specific authors — Mark Twain, for example, most published a great deal of journalism and sketches in periodicals that remains undiscovered.

    Beyond philological research, this kind of technology opens up opportunities for novel strategies of critical analysis. For example, making an argument about a text’s relative focus on the self vs. the other by examining the relative number of uses of the pronoun “I” vs. “he” “she” or “they”, and comparing that ratio to other texts. These numbers are likely in the hundreds or thousands, and doing such an analysis without the aid of computers is impracticable. In a real life example, I used (in part) a searchable text of Neuromancer to quickly locate every depiction of women, no matter how brief.
    As dumb and buzzwordy as “digital humanities” sounds, I think its value goes beyond making texts more widely and conveniently available to actually allowing us to interact with texts in novel ways.

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