Technology and the Humanities; an Inevitable Connection

I have to admit I was nervous coming into English 340. I feel comfortable with basic computer skills, and my friends often come to me for help with simple tasks. Last semester, I took an IT course and learned the basics of Microsoft Office. However, prior to this class, the most advanced experience I had with computers did not extend beyond editing the HTML for my Tumblr page in middle school to display a playlist and sparkly cursor.

Throughout school, English has always been my favorite subject. I love learning about art and literature, and it has always piqued my interest the most. I do not excel as much in science and technology, and these subjects are always a challenge for me. I decided to take this course not only because I needed to credit for my major, but also because I wanted to enhance my computing skills without getting too far out of my comfort zone.

Combining technology with humanities sounded like a great way for me to learn about computers without losing interest. In the past few weeks, I already feel like I have improved my computer skills and grown more comfortable with software like Virtual Box and Atom, which I never even knew existed before. Being able to complete tasks on the computer in class and follow along successfully feels very rewarding, and I actually enjoy learning new tools and techniques. I never thought of trying to learn how to code because it is something I always assumed I would simply never be able to do. It has been a pleasant surprise to find out that I am capable of doing at least the very basics of coding. Incorporating humanities into technology has made me more confident and comfortable than I ever thought I would be while taking a computer class.

To be honest, I never really thought about the connection between technology— computers and coding especially—and the humanities. James Gleick’s The Information has opened my eyes to the many ways technology is being incorporated more and more into the humanities. Technology impacts the way information is stored, shared, and accessed. Culture is changing around technological developments, thus influencing the types of humanistic work that is being produced and shared. With the prominence of technology in today’s society, it is inevitable that it will become intertwined with the humanities. I am looking forward to learning more about this connection, and to see my computing skills continue to grow.

Digital and Humanist: One in the Same

I still remember 2nd grade typing club like it was yesterday. Trudging down to the computer lab, to sit in front of a big mac, laying out my hands over the keyboard, just to secretly type with my pointer fingers when my teacher wasn’t looking. From a young age, I became well acquainted with computers in their basic functions, dreading hearing my mom or grandma call my name for help. Throughout the same time, I buried myself in books, always neglecting that kindle I got for my 11th birthday. Never was I afraid of a device, but when it came to my English studies, a paper copy was a necessity. Moving into college, I acknowledged that I would have to become a little more tech-savvy as an education major to be able to manipulate all the machines to some level of mastery that the kids are now growing up fluent in. Declaring my english concentration, was another way of letting myself stay in the cozy past of old books, and face to face discussions. Coming into this class, I was naive to believe that we were just going to discuss how social media has impacted the way we read and study literature. Although I never preferred a device over a paper copy, I felt fluent in using a computer for what I needed- simple apps and some graphic design work. Being introduced to the world of informatics and coding was completely foreign to me. In all honesty, I was beyond apprehensive once finding out what this course would contain. I was fully ready to come and discuss about how social media impacted our humanities, so finding out I would learn how to do some basic coding, and really understand my computer was nerve wracking. But once we got started, I had a change of heart.

When I delve into my own beliefs as to what the humanities entail, technology is one of the last facets I think of. When I think of the humanities, I first think of the old. Yet, the first day of this course opened my mind to realize, that technology is such a humanist creation. So often, we separate STEM from english, when it is all one in the same. I realized that we associate language as a humanist ideal, yet we set apart the language of math, and coding. In terms of our computer, we like to neglect how monumental of a role it plays in literature. In my own life, I also never considered computers apart of the realm of english studies, I secluded my views of the study to just physical books themselves. Although currently, my views have shifted to encompass informatics.

I understand the side that technology allows us to have so much more cultural information, history, and research from all over the globe. Yet, I think it is worthwhile to look at the direct impact of technology as it has grown with the humanities. Originally, I felt that social media was ruining students lives, and dulling our thinking capacities. But once the class focused more on the history of technology and a “thinking machine” I got more of a clear view of how the humanities and technology intertwine perfectly.

When I look at my technology use currently, I have to admit, I’m pretty attached to my phone and my Macbook. Looking at my personal phone history, I was 8 years old when I got my first black flip phone, that I could barely text off of. We had a massive dell machine in our living room, that I played endless hours of sims on. I never go a day without using my Macbook now, whether it’s for homework, emails, or for tv. Both devices, I have grown in my usage, but still manipulate them without much depth. Like the history we’re reading about, I use my machines to about the level of a telegraph. I’m excited to get to know the deeper mechanics of my computer through this class, to be able to effectively keep up with the changing way we view the humanities. After our first few classes diving into the coding world I never knew existed, let alone pertained to my studies, I’m feeling adventurous and excited to keep learning.

From the Girl With the Best Halloween Costume

Fourth grade. That’s about when the intersection of computers and the humanities first dawned on me. I’m referring to a literal intersection wherein one uses a computer to write literature — I’m not quite sure if that was the intended interpretation of the assignment prompt, but hey, what’s an English class without a variance of interpretations?

My relationship with computers essentially started because I loved literature. I loved it so much that I wanted to create my own one day, and therefore adopted the mindset that there’s no time like the present to do so. Don’t mind me as I introduce a shameless plug: when prompted in an ice-breaker activity, my fun fact is always that I wrote four books by fifth grade. By books, do I mean Microsoft Word documents no more than 100 pages? Absolutely. Was one Halloween costume during this era an author (yes, I literally dressed up as “an author,” complete with a construction-paper-cutout Pulitzer Prize badge)? You bet.

Now that you have a proper image in your mind of who I was as a child, you have a general idea of what my afternoons probably looked like. I would get home from school, get any homework out of the way, go upstairs to our family-shared 2005 Dell Desktop…and write. I still have a copy of my most acclaimed work, Fifth Grade Never Ends. Ironic given the title, this was the “book” I wrote in fourth grade. My parents told my teacher about it, who arranged an “author reading” in which I would read my book aloud to my classmates every day after recess. Everyone got a copy, and my teacher even held an author signing. The entire scenario was one of the nicest gestures anyone had ever done for me up to that point. (Ms. Donofrio, this is a shoutout to you!)

My relationship with computers can be implied as a comfortable one from this story. My machine gave me the tools I needed to express myself in a way I loved. It also enriched my relationship with literature (the humanities, you could argue) itself by becoming the vehicle to produce my own writing. It is also worth noting that I used to run several blogs and websites on which I published some of my writing. I used WordPress and another website that I can’t remember anymore, but for my website, I had learned basics of HTML! So, as we’ve started to skim the surface of coding in this class with Atom, it looks vaguely familiar to me. I came into the course with a familiarity of WordPress and a quasi-familiarity of HTML, so using a blog as an alternative for writing hard-copy papers is something I find comfortable!

I touched on my loving relationship with my good ol’ Dell back in the day. As for my relationship with my current MacBook, sorry Dell, but I’ve moved on to better things. I understand the ongoing debate of the worthiness of Apple products and the dangers of the Apple monopoly. First and foremost, I admit that I am fully under the Apple spell. I suppose it goes without saying that I enjoy the accessibility of Apple. With three products (phone, laptop, and watch), I haven’t had any overbearing issues (with the exception of the planned obsolescence of the iPhone to make way for the new models, which yes, is frustrating). I never considered myself a “tech-whiz” — I call CIT when I need help just like the rest of us. I also just learned that you can access your iCloud account by literally typing in “iCloud.com.” If computer comfortability was a spectrum, though, I would place myself in the middle of “average” and “Steve Jobs.” It’s fun to learn more about your machine with a group of people. Personally, I’ve gotten a kick out of using Slack as a way to communicate efficiently with my peers and the professor; in a class this size, it makes so much sense!

I look forward to extending my computer comfortability and awakening some HTML memories with you all. Who knows? Maybe by the end of the semester, I’ll drop my blog web address from sixth grade so we can bond over my awkwardness.

How to Know What You Don’t Know

I have always been stubborn, with most things honestly, especially when it comes to trying to figure something out.  Surrender is not in my nature.  Nor is requesting help (which is almost as bad as surrendering).  But as I have grown, I have realized that not everything is in my skill set, and that yes, sometimes I do need a helping hand.

I am the go-to tech person in my family. In part because I understand technology, or at least more than my parents, also in part because I am more willing to offer help than my brothers.  I cannot say which reason is the bigger pull in asking me. This notion and the notion that I always end up figuring my way around a laptop, no matter how many hours, lulled me into a false idea that I truly understand computers.  I don’t.

Yes, I understand Word and yes, I can figure out how to get around random loopholes (occasionally), but once lines of number scan across the screen asking for input data sets and coding, my eyes go crossed. Especially with this class, I am realizing more and more that I don’t really know as much as I think I do.  Can I accomplish what I need?  Yes.  Can I reprogram my lap top for better or worse or do some type of data analysis?  No, not in the slightest.  But that doesn’t mean I am not willing to try, and mostly fail, to learn more.

But this class isn’t just coding, punching in letters and numbers until something appears, it is also the connection between computers and what we know as humanities.  Humanities is a strange word with a definition that varies depending on the area of study that the viewer is familiar with.  As an English major, I tend to look at humanities through the physical scripture that a cultural group leaves behind or those that influence later generations.  These physical scriptures are seen in the forms of books, thoughts and theories, as well as artistic works.  But as a communication minor, I also perceive humanities through the language and interactions one cultural group might have with another.  In this version of study, it is necessary to see how different members of a cultural group not only view and interact with each other but how they viewed members outside their culture.

The interesting thing with humanities now compared to earlier societies is the advancement of technology. Originally, only word of mouth could bring information back and forth, but now at the click of a button, information can be sent relatively anywhere.  Telephones, but more importantly computers have allowed for this spread of information, thoughts, ideas, arguments, to anyone with wifi.  This results in the communication between people who might otherwise never have spoken.  This new communication source puts older conversations about humanities on its head because one culture’s new ideas might not stay within that culture. With the modern quickness of communication, ideas can be sprung around losing its origin source creating one universal humanity.

This is not to say though that we as a world are a homogenous society, that is not true for 100’s of years if not ever.  Cultures are deep rooted in their societies and although they do morph with time and introductions of outside ideas and values, it is unlikely to see one universal truth. On that same note, not every cultural group is included in this communication sharing.  Many places still lack universal wifi or have an infrastructure that limits what information can be consumed and what can be exported.  This creates a power dynamic of those in the know and those out of it.  Just as those who have the physical access but lack the understanding on how to use the technology.

If I look back to my parents, there are so much they theoretically wouldn’t be able to access if someone had not shown them how to use a computer, or their cellphones.  But they also would not have realized what they were missing.  The same can be said with my own laptop and my lack of knowledge about the hard drive and coding.  I am ignorant to the possibilities one with the knowledge might be able to do, and I never would have known without taking this class.  This begs the question, what else are we missing just because we do not have the knowledge to know else wise?

Technology: the Terrifying Tool?

Image from Chungkong Art
“Three billion human lives ended on August 29, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day. They lived only to face a new nightmare: the war against the Machines.”

 

It begins, as always, with video games.

Back in 2003, on my fifth birthday, my parents got me a small gaming device called a “Gameboy”, a product that has since become somewhat defunct due to those “cell-phones” everyone seems to carry around. Poor five-year-old David was absolutely terrified of the thing. I remember just staring at that vapid black screen three-inch screen, the empty blackness unsettling me. Strange that I didn’t view TVs the same way, which were far larger and more imposing in their emptiness. Perhaps it was my role as an active agent in the life of Mario, or Sonic, or whichever gaming mascot populated the gaming cartridge that concerned me so. TV was just TV, something you watched. But being launched into a virtual world where I controlled what happened to that jolly Italian plumber in red and blue? Far too anxiety-inducing for me. I refused to touch the device for months, out of fear that Mario would die for good, or, even worse, that it would explode in my hands! Since then, I’ve maintained a healthy distance from any technology whatsoever, out of fear of its spontaneous combustion in my hands.

… Is that the future we face with “technology”?

Of course it sounds ridiculous to retroactively compare the worries of an anxiety-ridden child to fifteen years down the line, when technology has become such an intrinsic part of my own daily routine. Wake up, use the facilities, check email. Second on my to-do list. I’m sure this is replicated by the vast majority of the college campus. We need to be connected because everyone else is connected, and if you aren’t connected, then you’re going to get behind, you’re going to miss out on opportunities. Keeping my finger on the pulse of what is happening on campus and beyond has allowed me to stay in touch with our ever-changing world. As a humanities major with a vested interest in pop culture, it’s of vital importance. Our technology has become a massive fruit tree, where you can reach out and pluck whatever glob of knowledge you’d like to.

My knowledge of computer functions has always been of a fairly moderate level. I can usually cruise through a series of systems directories and find a file, or solve some basic computer issues (it usually helps to just turn it off and on again). I’d like to learn the mechanical aspects of my computers as well as how it functions in the humanities.

My computer has always been the device through which I experience whatever sort of medium I want. It’s a vessel that carries me from a place of ignorance to a place of knowledge. I discovered ambient and post-rock music because I was trying to find something that wasn’t distracting while I studied; I’ve found strange or off-kilter films from talking on discussion forums with people across the continent; I’ve connected with absolute strangers thanks to our mutual interests, sometimes those connections forming into long-lasting friendships.

I’ve grown somewhat attached to my past computers over the years. I like to view them as that friend who constantly supplies you with fun new materials or topics that pique your interest. So, of course, I give them all names (it makes it much harder to scrap the tech once it slows down). Russell, my weather-beaten, warhorse of a laptop, has saved me from however many sticky situations in my college career. I don’t view it (him?) as just a tool; it seems nobler than that, more elevated.

Sometimes, people say that we shouldn’t give names to our technology, that it’s only just a piece of metal and machinery. Well, yes of course it’s just a piece of technology; but so is a car, a house, a spatula, a microwave, even a book. We ought to be more appreciative of the things that we vitally rely on, to consider the amount of time, effort, and resources that was put into things that we take for granted. I took a class with the unmatched Dr. Ken Cooper last semester (the excellent “Conversations: Renewable Futures”) that discussed at length our inability to fully respect the things we consume. After all, our first instinct after we consume something is not “What happens to it now?” but “What will I get next?” Computers don’t really seem to be going anywhere, so perhaps it’s time to stop being so blasé in how we produce and consume them.

I was afraid of the Gameboy because I didn’t understand it; it was something unfamiliar, something that required self-assertion and independence to run. People are afraid of technology because it’s something that offers the possibility of human interaction without the flesh and blood involved, it’s something alien. But I don’t want to sit around and be afraid of a three-inch screen anymore. If this is going to be a part of our world, then I’d like to know how to use it, I’d like to teach other people that it isn’t just something to be afraid of, but something to embrace, to study, to realize the opportunities it gives us.

So guess you could say I like to maintain my respect for technology. After all, you never know when it will explode.

Using Computers to Join the Conversation

As a young adult in our technology-driven society who is constantly within reach of my phone and or laptop, and is able to easily use both to accomplish my daily needs, I came into this course thinking that I was highly proficient in the use of computers and technology. After the past few weeks, I have come to realize that I was wrong: there is a lot that I do not know about computers. While I had previously only used my computer to type documents for school such as papers and notes, along with using Google Chrome and occasionally Excel, English 340 has opened me up to an entire world of computing that I did not know existed. At first, using applications like Atom and Virtual Box was a daunting task to me, but working with both applications has gradually increased my comfort with these types of computational tools. I now realize that there is so much I have to learn about computers, and I’m excited to see the difference in my skills from now to the end of the semester.

Going beyond my relationship with my computer to examine the relationship between computers and humanities, I’d like to first define humanities. Humanities are the study of human culture and society, and in academic disciples include the study of languages, literature, philosophy, the arts, and other subjects that examine the human race. Coming into the course, when I thought about humanities and computers, the first thing that came to my mind was the use of computers in conducting research about literature. When I read the title of the class, “Literature Study in a Digital Age,” I assumed the digital part of the course would be doing research on computers about the texts we read. I thought we would mostly be writing research papers and pictured myself using search browsers such as Jstor and Google Scholar. I thought (and still do think) that computers are very useful in the field of humanities because they give people the ability to spread information on a very large scale: if I search a database like Jstor, I can find literature and scholarly articles from all over the world, as well as from many years ago. In this way, technology has a power to connect people from different places and times. Although places such as libraries gave people access to research before computers were widespread, online databases give people access to much more information than a library can hold. Digital humanities also provides a platform for less established writers, researchers, and scholars to share thoughts, ideas, and scholarly work. Instead of having to publish work in a traditional manner, platforms like blogging sites (including WordPress, the one I am using now), allow writers and thinkers to discuss humanities on a less formal basis. This leads me to a point that has been at the center of my academic career at Geneseo: having a “conversation” in English and the humanities. In high school, I wrote papers in which I summarized ideas I read in literature or in scholarly articles. Once I got to college, I was introduced to the idea of joining a conversation in literature, or the “they say, I say,” format, in which I was taught to summarize an argument I read about in a text in order to set up my own unique argument or ideas. Computers and technology give people like me a platform to share our “I say,” and join the conversation about humanities. While if computers did not exist, I could still write about texts and distribute it to others, my work would not reach nearly as large of an audience as it can through online platforms such as blogs.

These are some preexisting ideas I had about the relationship between computers and humanities, but after the first month of English 340 I have realized that there is so much more for me to learn. Before entering the class, I had never heard of coding, markdown, or plain text files. I’m excited to continue to learn how to use this knowledge in my study of the humanities. In our last class, we used Python to examine word choice in texts. Using a tool to see how many “z’s” or “e’s” were in Thoreau’s Walden was not something I could have previously imagined being able to do. I’m ready to continue to learn new ways to analyze text using digital resources and new computer tools to strengthen my ability to use technology to understand literature.

Better Understanding my Computer and the Humanities

In beginning this course, I honestly did not know what to expect. In reading the course description when I initially signed up, I believed I would be creating and running a blog around some readings we would be doing in class. In reading through the syllabus the day before our first class, I quickly realized it would be different than I expected. I believed that we would be covering how those who study the humanities were able to digitize a collection and how they collaborated through new technology. I imagined the class to be us studying how others were using technology instead of us actually being the ones doing it.

The humanities was a strange area for technology to be integrated, in my opinion. When I thought about the humanities, I found myself imagining a large library full of texts and a scholar hunched over a novel. This is may have been the case at one point but it certainly has changed since then. The humanities require collaboration. Humans have always had a need to work together since the dawn of time. Through collaboration, humans built the first civilizations and began to establish a way of life that seems familiar to us today. Most humans today cannot connect with nomads or hunting/gathering societies. We find our roots in Mesopotamia and Egypt in civilizations that have a structure similar to our own.

In studying the humanities, we look back on these early civilizations for answers regarding our beginnings. We want to understand how this all came to be. Well maybe only those who have chosen the study of humanity care about that question; every day people probably have other things on their minds. But regardless, there is a need to know. I believe the reason Google became such a mainstay in our lives is because people want to know. In a under a minute, I could be looking up the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein on my phone and reading about the cultural impact of the musical *Oklahoma.* Humans are constantly seeking answers to all of life’s mysteries or even the most basic questions.

This is why I now understand why technology is so important to the study of the humanities. We want to know and connect with others who share that same interest in the subject. Through collaboration, discoveries are being made with those who live across the ocean. The integration of technology has made it easier for ideas to spread and for new understandings of old texts.

In coming into the course, I saw myself as some sort of advanced novice. I was relatively able to figure out problems with my computer or how to set up programs on my machine through the process of trial and error or just flat out googling the problem. I wasn’t able to understand how to code or read binary but I was able to make something happen somehow.

Technology was a friend to me but it often left me confused and annoyed. I once lost a file for a paper that was due and I lost my mind. I was so upset that laid in bed and cried for a whole afternoon. Of course it was discouraging and I may have overreacted but once I calmed down, I went on a search for the file. The problem was that the auto-recovery feature for Word was saving the files to an obscure folder deep in my hardware. Tracking it down meant going into the containers of Microsoft Word and almost digging it out. Looking back on the incident, I am almost glad that I lost the paper. It was a short one and it hadn’t impacted my grade too much when I turned it in late. It taught me how to find files that were almost hidden within my computer and taught me to be much better about saving my files.

I think that while I’m fairly decent with my computer that I’m weak in fully using it. I am barebones with it and only using it mainly surface level. I would like to expand my knowledge further and understand what processes are being done to make it run. I believe this would make me a better computer user and that I could properly aid my machine if it were to get stuck. I believe more people should have a similar want. Technology is a necessary tool in our modern world. Much of the world is ignorant to the technology because it has developed so rapidly and it is hard to keep up. But I still believe there should be a drive for most people to understand their machine a little bit better than what our current average is. This would make us all a bit smarter and would maybe aid in our relationship with technology.

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.

Thinking and Living with Computers: Making a Digital Humanist

I can remember a time when I believed computer science and the humanities represented what Stephen Jay Gould would call non-overlapping magesterium. In other words, the two fields emerged from completely different epistemic origins; they had little (if anything at all) to do with each other. This had to be true. I hated working with computers, I became easily frustrated doing so, and I felt inherently different from those of my peers who found computing so natural. The TI-84 on my trig class desk would taunt me for 40 minutes a day throughout all of 10th grade. Meanwhile, I felt at home in my literature and history classes. I loved books, both for their readability and their materiality. I enjoyed my copy of Grapes of Wrath for both the story and the pulpy pages themselves. Hence, I began to develop a sense that computers had simply no place in my humanist education and, likewise, it made sense that my STEM focused peers would have such a distaste for reading books. I can remember this time because it was not too long ago. In fact, it wasn’t until last semester that I uncovered the deeply human nature of the device on which type right now.

Working with Dr. Schacht last fall on a versioning project about W.B. Yeats’s later poetry not only made me more familiar with my computer; it granted me access to a whole new plane of thinking about language. Writing xml documents for this project in Atom and Oxygen created a discussion between my computer and Yeats’s manuscripts. In this way, computers can be Rosetta Stones, engaging different languages simultaneously to present new ways of expressing similar ideas. While I was never one for computer based assignments, this kind of work reminded me of the fun I would have translating Virgil and Catullus in high school Latin. Both demanded a delicacy and respect for the texts. Perhaps the most exciting prospect of this work, though, was the potential of expanding the accessibility of the humanist education.

There is a momentum to digital communication. Too often, books remain on shelves or in the backpacks of disinterested students. By bringing humanist work to the computer, the probability of it reaching more people skyrockets. With social platforms abound, people will run into more and more content that (hopefully) reflects their interests and the continuation of sharing can go on ad infinitum. The self-organizing aspect of some internet tools can be admittedly quite scary and I am not even remotely close to grasping the behind-the-scenes activity of this kind of communication. However, I see a very democratic potential in all of this. One of my main focuses in creating a digital version of Yeats’s poetry was bringing the text to those who couldn’t access the pricey and rare Cornell Manuscript Series. This semester of work got me excited to do more investigating with my computer and ultimately prompted me to take English 340 this spring.

After a few short months of learning more than I had in the previous 20 years, I feel much more comfortable with my computer. However, I recognize the limitlessness of such an endeavor and realize that I may never master these skills which, in a way, is why computing is so similar to the humanities. We don’t seek mastery of literature, rather we read in order to read more; there is no endpoint. Similarly, the reading we’ve done until now will help us in the reading we look forward to doing. In learning xml I didn’t learn all coding and all codes, but I did come to understand appreciate the symbolic nature of such languages and learning one has certainly made learning the next easier. There is a logic to this. It is no mistake that themes in both my English classes and my STEM classes here at Geneseo can find their beginnings in that one philosophy class I took freshman year: Introduction to logic.

It would be a fallacy to say that I am much more comfortable with computing only as a result my humanities classes. Sure, literature helped me step into the cold water of this new way of thinking, but thinking of the two as overlapping has given me the confidence to dive deeper. Thus, while I may not always understand my computer, I am now all the more excited to try and figure it out. What I once saw as a walled-off territory of inaccessible knowledge I now see as an horizon that beckons for further exploration.

 

My Machine and I

I had never considered that Digital Humanities can act as a link between computing and the study of human culture. I’ve developed an array of computation skills over my lifetime and they have helped me find a platform to express myself, and also see the ways that others have expressed themselves. Our machines provide a means for us to access any kind of information we choose; whether it be a paper, photograph, or a song. All of these materials that exist online have been created by an individual who intends to document their personal human thoughts, relations, and feelings, and I love producing and sharing the forms of documentation that I have personally created; whether it is posting a picture on Instagram, or sharing a short story that I wrote on my blog. It is powerful and meaningful to be able to contribute to the collection of culture that exists online and to add to the mediums that help us study the human experience through our past, previous, and future selves. I have now become aware that Humanities enables us to understand others through their languages, histories and cultures, and it adds a dimension of questioning and deep thinking as we attempt to decipher the world around us.
While I do not have much prior knowledge about computing, I know that computers are very effective tools for research, recreation, and socialization. Computers are machines that allow us to access a seemingly infinite amount of information, which is crucial for discovering and developing new ideas. This is an essential tool for students, including me, but the appeal of computers extends far beyond academics. Computers are taking over. Not literally, but they are so widely available in the United States that it is difficult to avoid incorporating them into daily life. I don’t remember a time in my life where I was without a computer, quite honestly. Computers provide numerous ways of relaxing because they harness the power to play movies, television shows, and video games (or e-books, which are totally better, just saying). Finally, through communication technology such as social media and messaging services, computers allow us to stay connected to friends and family all across the globe. When I miss my family and my friends, they are just one Skype call away. This would have been practically unthinkable one hundred years ago, but today, the ability to instantly interact with people hundreds or even thousands of miles away has become accepted as the norm. Plus, the role of computers is immensely important even beyond my daily life, as governments and corporations rely on the power of computers to perform many of their administrative functions.
As a college student, my computer fills a critical niche in my daily life. I consider my computer to be an extension of myself, and aside from the fact that I rarely go anywhere without it; I use it to send emails, complete assignments, and compile research. My machine allows me to easily gather all the information that I may need for an assignment, and many professors assign online only work. Having my own computer is a lifesaver, as I always have access to it, which makes it rare to have to rely on a library computer or a friend’s. I am very aware of the fact that if I were to lose this computer, I would lose a vital part of my everyday world. When I need to unwind on the weekend or after a long day of class, I immediately make a beeline for my computer. My friends are always available for FaceTime or iMessage and my favorite shows are always on Netflix. My computer feeds into my online shopping addiction, and I have gained so much appreciation for online ordering and Amazon since coming to Geneseo. Personally, I have taken many of the functions that my computer can perform for granted. It is easy to type a paper on Google Docs and use the italics and bold buttons. However, it takes time to learn how to use markdown language, and insert the same commands yourself. It seems simple enough to create a journal on Microsoft Word or Pages, but it is extraordinarily different to keep a journal in Atom, a plain text editor, where specific functions are no longer automatic. I am thoroughly enjoying learning more about the machine that does so much for me. I think it is fair to say that my computer is an absolutely essential component of my life, and while it’s something that I can survive without, its absence would make life a lot more difficult.