Darkness and the Computer Community

For a couple years now, I’ve been subscribed to The Humanist Discussion Group, which isn’t a “free-for-all” email list discussion common in the composition community, but rather, it is a filtered forum that is as much about announcements of various sorts than it is about discussion. I don’t follow more than half of what is posted there, but what I do find interesting I find very interesting.

In any event, the forum’s editor, Willard McCarty of King’s College in London, posted a fairly personal message today about the Winter Solstice, which is today, and also the simultaneously “private” and “public” nature of the scholarly life. You should sign up to the list and read the whole thing. As a computers and writing person, I was most struck by this part of it:

Some here will remember when we were told that computers would lead to the massive isolation of individuals from each other, everyone in front of a screen, no one face-to-face. Then people began to wonder why computer labs were so popular among those who had their own machines. Now people like Terry Winograd are telling us not only that computers are about communicating rather than alphanumeric crunching but that the metaphor of the “interface” (that which is between a person and his or her machine) is all wrong, that it should be replaced by another, the “habitat” (“From Computing Machinery to Interaction Design”, in Peter Denning and Robert Metcalfe, eds., Beyond Calculation: The Next Fifty Years of Computing, Springer-Verlag, 1997, 149-162, online at http://hci.stanford.edu/winograd/acm97.html). I suppose one could argue in the manner of Geoffrey Nunberg that our party-animal nature, long constricted by professional modes of communication, is now allowed its rampant freedom — that although we were highly social lone scholars before, now we are even more so.

Amen to that. Lights in the darkness.

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