"Us" vs. "Them"

One interesting discussion occurred on twitter a few weeks back. Dan, Brian, and a few others were discussing the future of the Digital Humanities, and I (attempting to make what I believed at the time would be a “funny” science fiction joke) said that the definition of the Digital Humanities would be much cooler in the future. Dan Cohen’s response stuck with me, though. He said that, in the future, it would just be called “The Humanities”, and that stuck with me. The idea that the Digital Humanities is a transitional form, a sort of leap ahead into what everything should be. Now, Dan might not even agree with that statement (it was, after all, just a tweet) but I think it is an interesting thing to consider; are we simply what comes next, or will there always be classic (albeit technologically improved) academia and that group of Nerds in the corner using Zotero? To turn it into geek terms: Are we Homo Sapiens (Homo Superior if you are a Bowie fan), or are we X-men?

Running parallel to this topic is the notion of the “Digital Native”. That word has always caused a little discord for me – after all, according to the definition, I am one of them! However, it has always struck me as an odd term, either oddly placed or oddly defined. If oddly placed, it is because I have seen my fellow “digital natives” stare coldly and run frightened from a wiki page, or even saving a word document. There are so many in my generation that refuse to go deeper than surface level, and in many cases, repel technology as an unwanted obstacle. This is not an insignificant minority, by my observation. If it is oddly defined, then the problem comes with the expansion of the phrase. What I mean to say is that while the strict definition I’ve heard is “Someone who has grown up with technology”, of which my generation applies, but always comes with the adage “and is therefore more comfortable with it and probably very knowledgeable”. For the same reasons as above, this is not always true – regrettably – and therefore creates a sort of double-blind issue; it seems that the digital natives are under-performing for the seemingly powerful title, and those deeming us with the title are overestimating the meaning of it.

I bring this up because they both highlight an issue that has seemingly existed since the playground: The Us vs. Them mentality. are the Digital humanities a breeding ground for ideas that will one day be excepted, or are they a toolbox that the professors and academics of tomorrow will turn to in a time of experimentation? Will there always be geeks, or will everyone eventually be logged on? For complications sake, do you think that the Digital Humanities are sort of “reaching far”, and only the more median of pedagogies and academic memes will gestate into the population as a whole? For instance, Digital Archives will be obviously used in the future, but in-class use of wikis will not? iPhones, but not EBooks?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

P.s. Thatcamp is my very first academic Conference. I am immensely excited, and look forward to seeing you all there!

4 Responses to “"Us" vs. "Them"”

  1. Arden Kirkland Says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the “us vs. them” perspective while following this blog for the last few weeks. I appreciate the way you’ve articulated some of the assumptions about the generational aspect of this. The range of comfort with technology is very wide not only among professors, but also among students!

    The other aspect that I haven’t seen articulated yet has to do with privilege. What about students who don’t have iphones or ebooks, and barely even have access to a computer? One of the great features of many digital humanities projects is open access – but you can’t visit an online resource if you don’t have decent access to a computer, or enough familiarity to be comfortable navigating it.

    If we are moving into an age where the Digital Humanities are the Humanities, how can we make sure that we’re not leaving less privileged students (and less privileged schools) behind?

  2. Alxjrvs Says:

    Thanks for the Comment!

    In regards to privilege: I am actually considering the same questions. I spend a lot of time with a group of people in boston who work for the One Laptop per Child Non-profit, as well as T.A.-ing a Pilot class at my university where the entire class was given iPod Touches to use. It is a broad spectrum, but there are some very keen similarities between shallow and deep digital divides.

    Arguably, this whole thing is about the digital Divide, where you have a sort of X/Y graph: on the X, you have Availability (low to high) and the Y, you have Interest, Low to high. The “Digital Natives” I lamented about previously would have a High X, low Y value, and so on.

  3. jbj Says:

    A related problem–which I think we occasionally picked up in the iPod class–is that of students who imagine (some aspects of) digital culture to be their pool, and who don’t want The Man paddling around in it.

  4. nm45 Says:

    Ironically, the “digital native” manages to reverse his/her position in global capital as the inheritor of colonial and post-colonial domination and become once again the innocent indigene, oppressed by…who exactly? it’s an odd choice of name if you’re used to post-colonial studies.