Author: Anthony Lyon

Dissolving the Dichotomy

If someone had posed to me a year ago the question, “How do you view the relationship between technology and the humanities?” I likely would’ve given somewhat of an elitist answer. I would have said something along the lines of “The only valuable relationship between the two is through the dissemination of news media and things of that sort. Otherwise the humanities should remain outside of technology,” immediately praising physical media without any real consideration of the question. My theoretical response is one bolstered by years of English education that sought to remove the smartphone from the classroom. One granola crunching teacher after the next sprouted in me the belief that there was something inherently wrong about the intersection of technology and literature, that online forms of media (outside of news, of course) inhabited some lesser caste than what you’d find in a bookstore, and that technology in general is an entity entirely opposite to these other praiseworthy forms of “higher media.”

Membership in my generation, however, would not allow these views to coexist with my actual habits; I realized that, in spite of my vehement criticisms of online media and technology in general, much of, if not the majority of the media I consumed on a daily basis was online, completely outside news and STEM, on sites like McSweeny’s and The Poetry Foundation. In an attempt to negate what I suspected was a fallacious view of the actual application of technology in the humanities, I decided to register for a course – this course – concerning the “digital humanities.”

Nearly a decade engulfed in STEM had left me with a fairly advanced understanding of CAD and 3D printing, as well as some basic knowledge of coding that I’d picked up from my brother. My interest in creative writing had conversely amassed for me a good bit of knowledge concerning online publications, E-zines, and other such related systems. Coming into the spring semester, I had a few different understandings of computing, and figured that, while I’d likely employ knowledge of word processing and internet blogging, and the rest would be left by the wayside. Studying the digital humanities, however, would certainly serve to confuse the division between these two otherwise separate sects of knowledge.

My conversion into the realm of English literature and philosophy has been a fairly recent one and, up until my junior year of high school, my relationship to my devices had been rather…mechanical. The majority of my learning on computers has been through the lens of STEM education, beginning in fifth grade with programming Lego Mind-storms to perform basic functions. Throughout middle and high school, developed in me was a rather advanced understanding of most Autodesk design programs, as well as a decent proficiency in Google Sketch-up and a basic understanding of coding in general. Though, for most of my life, I hadn’t owned a computer of my own, my relationship to computers in general had been on the basis of performing functions related to STEM, so much so that it became a reflex to open Autodesk Inventor as soon as the computer booted and open a new sketch.

Strangely enough, however, my relationship to my devices changed most drastically when I began to read. During the summer before junior year, I discovered a passionate interest in books, and read more literature in that summer than I will likely be capable of doing ever again. Novels like In the Cafe of Lost Youth and Beautiful Losers inspired in me a great passion and respect for literature and, naturally, I wanted to be able to create something that I loved as much as my favorite books. I began to study poetry and through that developed a greater understanding of word processing – in formatting specifically – as well as an almost encyclopedic knowledge of all the best online magazines to send me rejection slips. Programs like Submittable furthered my understanding of the ways in which I could utilize my computer to contribute to the culture – or at least attempt to – and inspired in me a different view on technology than I’d previously held.

Now, as an English and Philosophy major, these realizations have risen to predominance, though CAD certainly remains as a hobby and a resume item. Employing my STEM computing knowledge has become something of a rarity these days, though I am glad to have learned the skills that I did as they provide a sort of duality of understanding of my computer as the multifaceted device that it is. Though still a bit of a media snob, my diverse background in computing has left me more open minded to new functions than I would otherwise be. Before registering for this course, I understood computing and the humanities as two entirely separate entities. However, I’ve begun to realize that I am beginning to draw on my STEM knowledge for the purpose of the creation of media and vice versa and, as a result, it has become increasingly more apparent that the dichotomy between the two is beginning to dissolve.