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Mindfulness: Creating Space in a Digital World

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As we become more and more steeped in a technologically connected world, scholars are turning their attention and work toward understanding both the benefits and challenges with reading on the internet. Much of the conversation revolves around distraction, as noted by Nicholas Carr and Tony Schwartz. In the New York Times article “Addicted to Distraction,” Schwartz calls attention to “[t]he brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation and immediate gratification [which] creates something called a ‘compulsion loop.’ Like lab rats and drug addicts, we need more and more to get the same effect” (Schwartz). Ultimately, Schwartz sets out to break the compulsive cycle that he has attributed to constant connection to the internet.

Many of us can relate to the sentiments Schwartz expresses in his article, the compulsive checking emails, and clicking from article to article on the internet. We may even justify these behaviors, that we are reading something and it is entertaining, or informative etc. Schwartz, though, is concerned with the ways it shapes our life, and those of us who are compulsively using the internet have actually developed a sort of addiction to it.

As people we might have a difficult time acknowledging how the internet shatters our focus, as Carr deftly points to in his article. He writes, “[d]azzled by the Net’s treasures, we are blind to the damage we may be doing to our intellectual lives and even our culture.” Because it is often instantaneous, and always available, it is difficult to move out of that space, or that ‘compulsion loop.’ Ultimately, Schwartz commits himself to a detox ritual in order to shift his habit of mind toward a more healthy relationship with the internet.

Schwartz reveals that this was not an easy task. In fact, he did not immediately succeed in his internet detox. Eventually, he reveals that he has “retained [his] longtime ritual of deciding the night before on the most important thing I can accomplish the next morning. [Promising to work] for 60 to 90 minutes without interruption. Afterward, [he takes] a 10- to 15-minute break to quiet [his] mind and renew [his] energy” (Schwartz). This is a deliberate moving away from the allatonceness that the digital humanities often considers a strength. This shift toward technological mindfulness moves the scholar, the professional, the technologically engaged person into a slower paced environment. This new space allows for an active engagement with the digital world, but a more balanced and healthy one. How might we, as educators, incorporate some of Schwartz’s into our course objectives, activities, and teaching philosophies?

 

Robots Reading Vogue

Robots Reading Vogue is a collaborative project between arts librarian, Lindsay King and digital humanities lab affiliate Peter Leonard through the Yale Digital Humanities Lab. The large data mining project purports to be useful for disciplines from gender studies to computer science. The visual data represents various changes throughout the magazines history ranging from cover art to word co-occurance. Vogue‘s long and rich publication history (over a hundred years, according to the project’s website) provides a wealth of data to be selected and analyzed.

Since its inception, Robots Reading Vogue has worked several different inspiring projects like these awesome student projects!

 

UW-Madison and The Digital Salon

The Digital Salon at UW-Madison is a competitive exhibition of “artistic and research-based projects that take digital form or rely heavily on information technology in the production process.” With digital humanist projects and scholarships on the rise, this exhibition demonstrates the shifting dynamics in scholarship production and dissemination. The Digital Salon is open for both undergraduate and graduate projects. This is a great, and inspiring way to add work to one’s CV in an applicable, timely, and playful manner.

Knowledge and Understanding: Methods and Theory in Digital Humanities

Johanna Drucker writes:

The challenge is to shift humanistic study from attention to the effects of technology (from readings of social media, games, narrative, personae, digital texts, images, environments), to a humanistically informed theory of the making of technology (a humanistic computing at the level of design, modeling of information architecture, data types, interface, and protocols). To theorize humanities approaches to digital scholarship we need to consider the role of affect, notions of non–self-identicality of all expressions, the force of a constructivist approach to knowledge as knowing, observer dependent, emergent, and process-driven rather than entity-defined.

Here, Drucker calls for theory in addition to the methods employed in the digital humanities. In some ways, this calls attention to the relationship between knowledge and understanding, or what we know and what we experience as process. My own understanding is that we can understand something, and we can know something, but these are distinctively different intellectual actions.

Similar to Drucker, I would contend that knowledge is produced, or it is the product. In the realm of the digital humanities, the graphs and maps and charts produced are knowledge. While the methods may seem to have been borrowed from other disciplines, they can (and have been shown to) be productive and relevant in the humanities. Yet, determining what they mean in a cultural or contextual frame may not be immediately apparent. In other words, they are tangible representations of certain information sets. They have been produced, they are material.But what do they mean?

The intellectual materials of theoretical paradigms push the hard materials toward meaning, or understanding. While knowledge can be shared once produced, understanding is shared through experience. Theory helps shape that experience. What we typically call theoretical “lenses” lend themselves to a particular view finding apparatus. Of course, these apparatus help us understand our way to knowledge. In some ways then, theory is a tool that helps shape the process of understanding. How the method and the theory work together is part of the larger debate about the digital humanities. How might we use the digital humanist methods to bring us toward a new method of interpretation? Is it time to rework our theoretical models to accommodate and supplement our understanding of the new kinds of knowledge that are being constructed through digital humanist work?

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