Thursday, June 06, 2013

Digital Humanities: fact and fiction

The term ‘digital humanities’ is very troublesome, but the focus on using digital media to make things is only a part of the complex network of practices, methods, ideas and disciplines that meet within the somewhat fluid boundaries of the term. I recently read that the digital humanities could be summarized as “the digitization of texts, adding hypertext and some visual references that link to further definitions or information”. But this is only a small part of what is termed the ‘digital humanities’. Firstly I do not believe it is a discipline. Secondly I do believe it relies heavily on a) method and b) objects of study.

We need to step away from the humanities' focus on the production of text and observe how digital technologies are changing relationships, identities and meaning making. The implications of a digital technology like Google Glass is a good example of the need for a humanities that is aware and engaged with the digital. What are the implications of a socialized image making, communication device that is connected to a publishing and distribution network 24/7? Answering this question is a job for a body of knowledge and practices that could be termed the digital humanities.

The implications for society, culture, politics, communication, community, art and language from digital technologies are so great and far reaching that is makes my breathing quicken at times. We are not even dealing with simple mediation here, as the interaction with digital technology between people is now reaching such a level of development that much of it appears as what was once termed ‘reality’. Last night I watched a news broadcast about the current proposal before the United Nations for a moratorium on the production of killer robots. One of the concerns raised is that a human being killed by a machine is part of “the increasing detachment between people and the decision to kill”. Here we have ethics, technology, politics and philosophy meeting in an area that we have yet to have as a university discipline, but that is making the reality we live in.

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