Monthly Archives: October 2014

Digitization and the Humanities

It is hard to read an ‘Interview with Brett Bobley’ (written by Michael Gavin and Kathleen Marie Smith) without seriously questioning the purpose and effect of the digital era on the humanities. While it is easy to focus solely on the areas of digitization that we see and hear about everyday, namely that as a means of communication, it is imperative not to take lightly the impact it has had and is having on the digital humanities.

‘Digital humanities’ sounds like a futuristic term, and perhaps it is, yet it is not only a window to the future that these new developments offer but also a door to the past. Information about the past is uploaded every day, every minute in fact, onto the world wide web, be it documentation, or artwork or various other important artifacts which help us to understand our past. This does not only make for interesting reading for the everyday internet user, but also scholars and academics, allowing them quicker and easier access to information which, before, would have sent them trawling through libraries or museums for hours on end.

Brett Bobley discusses the three (arguably) biggest changes that digitization has brought onto the world. Firstly, it has allowed for far greater access than we ever could have seen before. We are able to upload, send and view information from an indeterminable number of people from anywhere across the globe. In relation to this, he says, we are able to produce and distribute this information to those that would ordinarily not have ever been able to see our work before. Before, you would have to ship journal articles or that new novel from your favourite lesser-known author half way across the world, now all this and so much more is at our fingertips. The possibilities really are endless in terms of reach and audience. What’s more, according to Bobley, we are able to consume more information than ever before. We are able to access and save more data than would have been possible before, and in such a concise and easy way. For example, we are able to store thousands upon thousands of texts on a single kindle, the same number of which would take up many, many shelves of many, many libraries.

So what does all of this mean for the humanities? The digital revolution has allowed us to reach greater audiences in more remote places, allowing us greater insight into different periods of time, into different perspectives; the possibilities that digital humanities allows us really are endless.

In a world where every generation under a certain age are being born ‘digital natives’, the ability for the internet and other technologies as a means for this vast and ever growing progression to carry on expanding is definite; digitization is here to stay.

You can find the interview here: http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/49

Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore: the love affair of paper and the digital world

by Ben Franks

Reading Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore isn’t hard once you fall in love with it. Sure, the language isn’t the most difficult thing in the world and the characters don’t have a whole lot of depth, but still Robin Sloan manages to make the characters real and the story significant.

Its significance for the great part relies on its topicality; the ongoing debate between book-lovers and digi-geeks and everyone in between about whether we should keep touching books or start Googling everything.

While things certainly seem to be moving towards the age when your phone can do anything your heart desires so you needn’t get out of bed in the morning – unless there’s bacon – Mr Penumbra is a refreshing twist on the debate.

To me, the novel paints an age where the digital world and paper can co-operate with one another, almost like a love affair. There will be ups and downs, but at the end of the day they need each other and the people around them will give them plenty of attention.

Clay Jannon, Sloan’s protagonist, is everyone’s favourite bum. He reads like we do, getting distracted by anything that pops up on your web browser unless we print it out and take it away to our sofas. Clay is the symbol of humanity’s urge to consume everything while being victim to our ever-shortening attention spans. With everything so readily available, if something isn’t interesting us in the first six seconds, everything else dazzling our eyeballs from the web page is suddenly much more appealing.

Clay is the person who draws everything together: he references role playing games so we can imagine the Penumbra’s Unbound/Bound book cult, and he references Star Wars to show just how much in the future all this digital lark actually is. However, both of these comparisons show two worlds built in fantasy – perhaps even divided into past and future as well – and as such the ‘present’ we all live in just seems like a transition age. We’re neither here nor there.

And so, in transition is compromise and co-operation. At the beginning of Penumbra the idea of co-operation seems alien. You have everyone who visits the bookstore focused on their individual puzzle building at varying levels; all the bookstore clerks work alone; and Mat’s art is very likely to aggravate housemate Ashley too.

Yet, Clay can only find the answer to the novel’s big mystery by bringing all the worlds together; Google meets book club, if you like.

As the novel goes on, Clay is the only one who truly embraces the idea of teamwork. He brings everyone together: the members of the cult, Kat and her Google buddies, Mat’s art (which Ashley ends up helping him take over the kitchen with), Neel’s boob company, and the clerks. As Clay says, it is not his skill set but his ability to bring everyone together and work as one – if only the paper age and digital age could have the same love affair, right?

Interestingly, Clay – who has a relationship with Kat from Google – struggles to see his relationship through to the end. Clay and Kat break down, mainly because Kat refuses to believe someone can’t do what Google can’t do, or at least it seems. Sloan appears to be suggesting the digital age, while as cool as Star Wars, is ignorant to the paper age’s perks, when, really, the paper age still has a lot to offer.

So while Kat goes off to be Project Manager at the world’s biggest brand, and Clay goes off to enjoy his small, charming bookstore, maybe the world in reality could bring paper and digital together and heal the rift between these two great ages.

 

Did you like Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore?

 

Found some nice links too:

Week 2: more Penumbra, some digital humanities

Alongside our discussion of Penumbra, this week we’re also going to begin thinking about digital humanities (here’s the full worksheet). Please read – in the Evernote folder I’ve shared with you – ‘Interview with Brett Bobley,’ in Debates in the Digital Humanities; Patricia Cohen’s ‘Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches’ in the New York Times; the Wikipedia entry on digital humanities, and finally, browse the What is Digital Humanities web page (refresh to see a new definition each time).