8.09.2017

Digital Humanities? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I'm on holiday. Yesterday I Tweeted lots of cat memes. I messaged with a couple of friends. I created an account for an App that does what I'd described I wanted years ago. I took down a bot that had malfunctioned due to human error.  The day before I drank almost two thirds of a 5 cl bottle of gin left over from a flight, and created an account with another App.

I've repeatedly declined to be dragged into various disputes that are being billed as about Digital Humanities. 

Over dinner we superficially discussed AI, because we understood that we didn't want to, and because food was more important. If pushed, my view is that currently human intelligence trumps artificial intelligence. In the long term, who knows. AI is like money, or water, which are both essentially neutral, and both necessary, but also all open to abuse. 

At heart I'm quite basic, and I don't like people trying to push me into making binary choices. With binary, people tend to look at a choice, project their own views into it, and assume it is negative. 

Civilisations have not fallen because of immigration or climate change or whatever fallacy du jour is in vogue. They have fallen because some tried to make them purely binary. Then they evolved and reemerged, because others realised that alternatives were available.

I dislike imposed labels, preferring mostly to be anonymous, and when I pop up using my own name it tends to be for a reason. Most of my views can best be summed up by  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Years ago the BA web site would reject my passport info as invalid, but I knew that when I turned up at the airport there wouldn't be a problem. A human with common sense would check me in. 

That's an issue with much of the data web companies gather: they often don't understand the data, or they are misinterpreting it. That's why humans had to tinker with the Google algorithm, and why the most successful bots are run by humans as much as AI. And that's why it's not that hard to work out how to skewer the data available to some of the companies that data mine.

Vitruvius is our best surviving source for Greek architecture, not because he was a great architect (we only know of one building, the basilica at Fano), but because he was an engineer. In fact, much of his data about history and architecture is arguably incorrect. He was copied and recopied, and used, because of the engineering data, and that is what was appreciated by the Carolingians. Early surviving manuscripts date to the Carolingian Renaissance, and he may well be the non religious text of which most copies were circulating in the West before the Renaissance. 

Engineering is key. You don't have to be able to code, but you do need to at least understand Basic if you want to do anything. And more importantly, you have to be able to foresee outcomes, and accept that one of those might not be the outcome you desire. 

I like ideas, but a weakness - one of many - is that I cannot get my head around the way people apply labels and try to theorise. I could take the time to look into the way they choose to think, but I tend not to. To me, when people theorise or label my work in a way I don't understand, it is simply illogical. 

I accept that there are good counter arguments to everything I say or think. For example, it is illogical that I generate and paste HTML   into MailChimp, when it shouldn't take me that long to learn how to use their interface. 

I have not really coded anything since Apple II. I have not hacked anything since then, because I gave a teacher my word that I would not. Although technically I wasn't hacking, I was coding. I use hacks, but that is not hacking. Long in the past we did what would probably now be called a denial of service attack, but in those days it was neither illegal nor was it called that. Was it intellectually satisfying?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Was if effective in achieving our goal? No. Did we achieve our goal? Mostly, but mostly through analog methods. 

Before 9/11, Christie's made me aware that their web site was so badly run that it would take them at least two weeks to change a couple of lines of text on it. I offered to hack it, as a more efficient alternative. They managed to make the change themselves.

Right now "Digital Humanities" is a great label for fundraising. The shine is beginning to come off it, and like every bubble it will burst. As with tulips, there will always be people who want Digital Humanities, but the dam will burst and the funding will in the future be tidal. 

David Meadows was a pioneer of the field, but he chose to not involve himself in this bubble. Some of the people labelled DH are genuinely brilliant. Daniel Pett is a good example. Others get themselves labelled a genius because they have worked out how to market other people's work. 

I worry about museums providing Apps and audio guides so that they can data mine visitors. My concern is not the data mining per se. I worry that, in the future, the data will be used to create exhibitions that ambitious museum directors think visitors want. Sometimes people need to be given something they don't realise they want, and to be intellectually challenged. 

Which in no way should be interpreted as a criticism of data mining. Some of the men and women I respect most are data miners. And without data there'd be no advertising, no funding, no free www et cetera. But, post hoc ergo propter hoc, most interesting developments in technology came about without worrying about monetisation. 

I don't use museums' Apps or technology. I have reverted to booking hotels through Expedia. I have an Uber account, so that in an emergency I have the option to download the App and use it. I love Amazon, and am very grateful for the way they have revolutionised retail and publishing; the latter, for me, was the greatest contribution to DIgital Humanities. I still use Yahoo as a host so it's more easily accessible ;-). I still hope Google succeed with Google books (I chose not to opt out of it, and theoretically everything I have ever published could be freely available through it). I use Ocado for heavy or bulky groceries, but when I want Ben and Jerry's, I go straight to Prime Now. I declined from the start to provide Academia.edu with real data, and have made clear my objections to the way JSTOR has been run. 

I'm an early adopter and embrace technology that simplifies my life. That is my interpretation of Digital Humanities. But am more enthusiastic about creative analog solutions.

I've come up with a solution that would  theoretically be the most effective way to substantially reduce the negative impact of several problems that have been bothering me: 
the looting of archaeological sites, 
art smuggling, 
Holocaust restitution claims, 
money laundering, 
the fact that the art market is effectively unregulated but that most of its clients made their money through businesses that were subject to tight regulations,
etc. 

But it's old school. 

It not only wouldn't bother me if people choose to monetise my solution, I see that as key to increasing its effectiveness. Our annual budget is under $ 20,000 pa. Some of my more incompetent colleagues achieve a lot less with that per week. 

I don't have a television or the internet at home. I'll probably switch off the data on my phone, because people who want to reach me, should be able to without hacking into the fire alarm system. I might move onto another 5 cl bottle of gin later, or find something else to do during my staycation.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So, in summary, my views on Digital Humanities can be summed up as ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Not my circus, not my monkeys. 


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