On Comprehending my Computer, Humanity, and even Myself

Prior to taking this course, I had a close but toxic relationship with my computer. This peculiar bond was formed through my experiences as a dedicated yet struggling physics major in the first half of my college career. In my freshman and sophomore years, my homework sets were posted and completed online and often required the use and mastery of programming software such as Mathematica, MatLab, and even Python. My computer followed me wherever I went until the device started to feel almost like a vital extension of myself.

Though I was very familiar with the aforementioned software, I never felt as though I truly understood what I was doing and I depended heavily upon troubleshooting and resources like stack exchange and friends to complete assignments. Additionally, due to my insecurities regarding my mathematical abilities, I became extremely reliant upon Mathematica to solve math problems for me and lost even more confidence as a result of this dependence. While some would have considered me adept at technology, specifically computers, I felt as though I never really understood what I was doing or why I was either able or unable to do it.

In my sophomore year, I took Geneseo’s interdepartmental programming class where the primary programming language learned was Python. Despite the warmth of the instructor and the generous support they offered, my comfort level in Python nevertheless remained low. I knew the terms such as string, list, and variable, as well as the different commands. However, I found myself unable to apply this knowledge and complete problems assigned in Stepik, the course homework site. Though I had the tools needed to solve problems such as the infamous Caesar Cipher, I felt frustrated that I could not consolidate my knowledge and deduced that programming, and computer science in general, just were not for me.

Then, at the start of my junior year, I realized that while I harbor a great interest in and love for physics and the sciences at large, my true passion is for English and the humanities. So, I declared an English major and named physics as my minor. Initially, I believed that my transition to the English major would effectively divorce me from my computer and end my tumultuous reliance upon it. In my general education humanities course, I only ever needed my computer for writing essays which I would then print and effectively bring into the physical, instead of the digital, world.

Furthermore, I had always associated computing with physics and math since these subjects relied a great deal upon computers and technology whereas I perceived the humanities to be focused on the texts, ideas, and objects of past human civilizations. However, this perception soon changed as I began the English major and became involved in discussing literature in the modern era while blogging about said literature and its connections with the many issues that humanity faces now and with those it has arguably always faced. Moreover, my involvement in this course and my introduction to the term “Digital Humanities” has further challenged my previous beliefs by demonstrating exactly how the digital world interacts with the humanities and how each entity benefits from and is informed by the other. Specifically, reading James Gleick’s The Information has been particularly helpful in demonstrating the symbiotic relationship the digital world has and has had with the humanities. Most notably, Gleick’s superb storytelling ability, a skill one might refer to as a byproduct of studying the humanities, allows readers to better understand the development and evolution of digital computing and communication.

On the other hand, digital tools like computers are extremely helpful when it comes to studying, analyzing, and appreciating the humanities. In class, we have already seen how we can use Python to analyze the word choice, particularly the percent of unique words used, in Thoreau’s Walden. In this way, Python serves as a tool that can supplement other methods of literary analysis to provide readers with a more holistic understanding of Walden. Additionally, the internet, a large facet of the digital world, allows for the texts of the past to be not only preserved but shared on a larger scale than ever before thereby granting more people access to the ideas and objects regarded as facets of the humanities. Furthermore, the internet provides a platform for which greater quantities of diverse stories, art, culture may be shared and appreciated.

While this class has already substantially challenged my belief regarding the relationship between computers and the humanities it has also challenged beliefs I had about myself and my own capabilities. Where I once thought that computing completely evaded my ability, I know now that I am capable of further learning and of applying the knowledge I gained through my experiences as a physics major. I am dedicated to shifting my relationship with my computer from an antagonistic and negative one to a symbiotic and positive one through the experiences I will gather in English 340.

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