My Day of DH 2010

Welcome to my Day of DH 2010 blog.

I will start blogging here on March 18th, 2010.

“The journal represents the series of reference points which a writer establishes in order to keep track of himself when he begins to suspect the dangerous metamorphoses to which he is exposed.”

-Maurice Blanchot, L’Espace littéraire, 1955.

18 March 2010: My Day of DH

Good morning. It’s 7:46am in London. I’m not sure if I should be using the present tense here. After more than 8 years of blogging, I realise that twittering has modified the way I relate to writing and publishing online; real time and verb tenses are connected, and therefore our understanding of the passage of time.

It’s been a bumpy start since the Yahoo! Mail search engine was not working properly. It’s only one of three email accounts I have; the uni one re-directs there. Also, it’s been frustrating I had set up a widget on the right sidebar so it would display my tweets, but it seems to be gone now.

The day starts with my favourite piece of machinery: my beloved macchinetta. It’s perhaps the most important piece of ‘morning technology’ since it defines the rest of the day.

Instead of doing different posts I think I’ll go updating this same post as events unfold. Happy Day of the Digital Humanities everyone!

UPDATE 08:27am. It’s a shame I can’t get the Twitter widget to display on the sidebar. When I set up the blog a few days ago it was working fine. More than blogging, twittering offers a better view of a day in the life. My timeline is here.

My Day of DH: Lunchtime Update

I‘d written I would update the previous post instead of posting new ones as the day evolved, but I’ve realised that my day goes through so many different motions it may make more sense to have different posts so there are different ‘nodes’, so to speak, throughout my blogged day.

Something I’ve thought a lot in 8, 9 years of blogging is how the awareness of an audience changes the way one represents one’s self. Especially in a professional setting, how much information is ‘too much’ information? I think Digital Humanities, within the academia, is facing the challenge of playing with the blurring borders between the personal and the professional, the often artificial difference between what constitutes our ‘private lives’ and what belongs to the realm of ‘work’. (Unlike other professionals, I keep receiving academic work emails at all times 7 days a week). I am writing this from the perspective of a PhD student, but also as someone who has taught at undergraduate level and whose former students, sometimes from as far as 7 years ago, read what I publish online.

So I guess we are all taking for granted that this blogging our day in a life is confined within a particular discursive framework, where there are expectations of a certain kind. I believe Digital Humanities, by embracing personal blogging for example, is emphasising the need to remember that the ‘humanist’ part of the term, understood here as concerning ‘the human’, does affect the way we relate to and think about ourselves as human beings and particularly in relation to technology.

I was thinking about this in the gym this morning. I try to go to the gym at least three times a week, but because I’m doing now a shorter routine I am trying to go every day. As someone who works sitting at the computer for at least 10 hours a day, going to the gym is a question of survival. Unlike what some people may think the gym is for me a place to think and concentrate. It is the quintessential physical space defined by interactive design. Working out in a gym, regardless of what kind of exercise we do or what machines we use, is based on human-machine interaction. What a piece of work is a human body! And even the simplest of weights is an amazing piece of machinery, designed with the human body in mind.

My gym is a small one but like many other gyms in the economically-developed world it’s a place for screens. Screens and mirrors: going to the gym is about monitoring human-machine interaction. To go in an infra-red scanner reads the barcode on my card, which shows my personal information, including my photo, on a computer screen. The cardiovascular machines have screens so you can monitor what you are doing: speed, intensity, different interval training programmes, etc. You can plug your headphones and choose to listen to one of the four giant plasma TV screens showing different information. Usually the gym’s PA will be playing the audio from the music channel, but you will also be seeing the news channel, the sports channel and whatever the other morning TV channel is. It’s a complete multimedia, multisensorial experience. ‘Total screen’, as Baudrillard would famously write.

There are of course other things that get acted out in a gym, so ’screen’ does not only mean here the machinery’s displays, CCTV cameras, workstations where personal trainers keep track of the members’ progress, TV screens, mirrors and more mirrors. The gym, like the library, is a place for inwardness: though many people think of it as a social activity and chat more than they train, when you go early in the morning we are usually people who are not fooling around: we are there to train, but we are all focusing on many things at the same time, usually what we have to do next. It’s sheer multitasking. (I do not carry my mobile phone with me when working out; some people do, which I find annoying. I do sometimes take my iPod though, and listen to podcasts, usually interviews or lectures related to my research topic I have missed in ‘real time’.)

Going to the gym has helped me to remain human while working with digital technology most of the hours of my day. Online research forces me to sit for long hours in frankly ‘dehumanising’ body postures. Beyond the obvious health benefits, the gym is for me a laboratory to think about what digital humanism is. In the gym I have thought about the importance to rethink the idea of ‘The Man Machine’ [YouTube video] towards an ongoing, ever-changing discussion of the relationship between machine and human body, and what makes us what we are or are becoming.

The previous 794 words have only covered one hour of my morning. Then come trains, laptop, mobile phone, underground transport, cash machines, library cards, passwords, power plugs, desks, library, work, work, work, and writing this in the library. I’ll post about that later today.

If you’ve taken the time to read all of the above, thank you.

My Day of DH: 16:22 Update

Re-reading my previous post it sounds as if I had no idea who Pierre Lévy or Regis Debrais or so many of the technoculture/cyborg theoreticians are. I do, and I guess my previous post shows how influenced I have been by them.

I’ve been feeling very self-conscious and inadequate all day: I’ve been unable to concentrate fully because I am not completely sure how events are supposed to be represented; what matters and what not; what are the political and academic and theoretical implications of everything that has been happening in the real-time event that Day of DH has been. Or maybe it’s just me and it’s nothing I should be worrying about too much.

I am writing this from the library at UCL. Today I finished writing and submitted an abstract for the Exploring the Archive in the Digital Age conference. Yesterday I was contacted by one of the people involved in the organisation asking if I wanted to participate and I was very happy to oblige. The title of my paper is “‘The Tell-Tale of Burning Paper’:
Traditional and Digital Archival Research in Comics Scholarship” and is a spin-off of a section of my dissertation.

Apart from doing that and struggling to keep writing while editing my draft, I have been interviewed by Elizabeth Adams, editor and publisher of Phoenicia Publishing in Montreal, about ‘The Death of Publishing’ advert by DK. The conversation (over email) has been relevant to my research, because I am interrogating the opposition between form and content, or the idea that ‘media’ is neutral and that content can be easily ‘migrated’ from one medium to another.

Did you see the DK advert? What did you think?

Now I need to get back to work quickly, at 6:30 I’ll go from UCL to LSE to attend the ‘In Media We Trust?’ panel.

I’ll come back later with new updates. Thanks for reading…

My Day of DH: 23:25pm Update

After the library I went to the London School of Economics to attend the Polis event, a panel titled “In Media We Trust?”. I was really looking forward to attending this talk. Quite unfashionably for a Mexican, I had written this on my diary as a must-do like two months ago.

I won’t extend too much since it’s late, but I’ll just say that the real highlight of the event, that in reality focused more on social media or social networking than on ‘media’ understood as ‘journalism’, was

    1) Verifying that Charlie Beckett is real and doesn’t only exist on the digital sphere. I have found his ideas on the present and future of journalism highly relevant to understand the new media ecology; and

    2) realising that even the media professionals do not have a clear consensus of what ‘media’ really means.

The panel focused on the concept of ‘media literacy’, but I found disappointing it concentrated too much on an idea of information consumption, as if it were a passive task and not an active one. Ben Hammersley, who has obviously done a highly influential job as editor at large of Wired UK magazine (now he sports tattoos on one of his forearms, which I, as a tattooed geek, can’t but appreciate), was the panelist I personally disagreed with more. He failed to engage with the audience visually when he was speaking (he kept looking at the chair, at least a lot in his first participation), and it seemed to me he was coming from a very traditional media stance, in which whatever ‘the authority’ says can remain unquestioned.

Hammersley seemed to assume that information overload, a concept that was debated tonight, was mainly the users’ fault, due to their inability to filter unnecessary information out. I completely disagree that information overload is only a conservative, “old-media” attitude of those who can’t deal with a culture that is facing the blurring of cultural/conceptual boundaries. Moreover, I think that in pragmatic terms the boundaries have not yet been blurred: geographical borders still impose huge practical limitations; real time and geographical space still matter, authority and reputation are still inherited from the pre-Internet models. For established outlets like Wired or The Guardian it’s all fine and dandy to talk about fluidity and border-blurring precisely because they are still firmly grounded on ‘traditional media’. Bloggers and media startups everywhere, relying only on digital media, are still struggling very hard to be accepted in the mainstream media ecology as authoritative, trust-worthy content providers (let alone make a living).

What stood out from the discussion is that ‘media’ meant something very vague, and what I think are two essential elements were ignored:

    1) not all media is born equal, and therefore requires the same type of literacy; ‘media literacies’ would be more appropriate as long as we understand that media is never singular and unique;

    2) that information consumers of today are not only consuming media passively; what overwhelms users of digital media is not just the sheer amount of input, but the fact that it calls for real-time interaction, 24/7.

I am convinced that those of us thinking about the phenomenology of digital textuality and digital media ecologies in the humanities have a lot to learn from current debates about the future of journalism (and ‘media’ in the broadest sense). Sooner than later we need to start collaborating more closely, figuring out together how to think more seriously about the nature of information in the 21st century, beyond facile simplifications or exciting editorial marketing strategies.

It’s been a long day. It involved different types of work, moving around the city, thinking and reflecting, talking, writing, tweeting, editing, designing, emailing… To wrap things up nicely there was even a nice private party after the talk at LSE, where conversation was passionate and intelligent and new friends were met.

[Please excuse the hurried syntax; it's late!]