DAH Conference 2016

Digital entanglements: the post-digital present

On November 18th 2016 I attended the final Digital Arts and Humanities (DAH) conference held at the Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin. The conference’s main theme was ‘Digital entanglements: the post-digital present’. The keynote speakers were Dr. Steven E. Jones and Dr. Maria Chatzichristodoulou. The programme is available here.

The conference was structured as a series of keynote lectures followed by panels with different sub-themes assigned to each. This blog post will focus upon the initial keynote address by Dr. Steven E. Jones, entitled ‘Digital Humanities after the ‘eversion’.

Jones’ lecture started with a discussion of the ‘eversion’ that has taken place with regard to the digital network or the internet. This concept is further developed in his book, The Emergence of the Digital Humanities (2014). The ‘eversion’ as defined by Jones refers to the changes that have taken place within the digital network; this change can be defined as the difference between logging into a static virtual world and having that virtual world encompass our so-called ‘real’ world. Although this is a complex definition and indeed an incomplete one, it does give a sense of the changes that have occurred. The period of 2004 – 2008 is posited as the timeframe when the concept of logging into a virtual world became less relevant as the digital world enveloped daily life.

Examples of the eversion as defined by Jones include; Google Maps, QR codes and daily uses of web accessible technology in our day to day commercial and social  activities. Instead of logging into a digital network, we are now surrounded and immersed within it at all times. Formerly remote regions now have wifi.  Jones employed two examples, benign and malignant, to show the process of ‘eversion’ as it occurs today. Starting with the benign, Jones’ outlined the origins of Pixel Pour by artist Kelly Goeller which was an example of street art installed on a public water pipe in NYC. This piece of art resembles a 8 bit pixelated stream of water flowing from a water pipe, evocative of early Mario Bros. video games from the 1980s and 1990s. This artwork utilises a digital concept, that of pixelated images and creates a real-world version on a street in NYC. The malignant example of ‘eversion’ given by Jones is that of cybersecurity and certain online activities with real world impacts such as ‘doxxing’ and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. One example is the recent Comet Pizza controversy where an internet rumour about a child exploitation ring operating out of pizzeria in Washington D.C. led an individual to appear at the real world location armed with a firearm (ABC News). Although this example is extreme, it is part of a trend of increasingly violent and dangerous rhetoric which starts in online blogs and forums, then crosses over into the ‘real’ world.

Lev Manovich’s concept of augmented space outlined in his article, ‘The poetics of augmented space’ (2006), provides an interesting context to the concept of the ‘eversion’ as outlined by Jones. If we currently exist in a mixed reality that has everted, with aspects of digital artefacts existing in our ‘real’ world then Manovich’s argument that we are currently interacting with augmented spaces is an early precursor to the everted reality that Jones outlines. Manovich uses the example of Canadian artist, Janet Cardiff and her ‘audio’ walks (Manovich 226). It is interesting that both Jones and Manovich use artists projects’ as case-studies to illustrate real-world examples of the concept they are articulating. It shows that art, however one defines the medium, is able to act as a mediator to new concepts and ideas.

Following Dr. Jones’ discussion of the term ‘eversion’ and how it has affected the digital network, he discusses its impact upon the field of digital humanities and potential challenges and opportunities that this ‘eversion’ has presented to the discipline. Jones avoids the simplistic narrative of progress. His emphasis upon a balanced reading of our current environment as a discipline and the uncertain future for the humanities was a welcome component of the discussion.

Other elements of Dr. Jones’ lecture concerned his newly published text, Roberto Busa, S.J., and the Emergence of Humanities Computing: The Priest and the Punched Cards (2016). This text is an interesting history of an early humanities computer created by Father Busa; an Italian priest who created a humanities computer using punch card machines and funding from IBM. This history surrounding humanities computing was new to me as a recent entrant to the field of digital humanities, and I found the painstaking efforts that Jones went to recreating the punch card machines digitally particularly fascinating, and an example of the new types of approaches available in a our post-eversion era.

Overall I found this talk a refreshing and engaging lecture that informed me of some of the new approaches occurring within Digital Humanities. His exploration of the changes occurring within our shared digital culture posed interesting questions that have led to a series of reflections upon the theme outlined. The concept of the internet and how it has evolved from a shared digital network to an all-encompassing latticework that can at times penetrate every aspects of our daily lives. The concept of ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’ are instructive in this regard; if we are free to use the internet and the engage with the shared knowledge within this network, are we also free from it? Is it possible to become unplugged and live, to use a cliché, off grid? Undoubtedly this is still possible and in large parts of the developing world inadequate infrastructure prevents a full engagement with the eversion as outlined by Jones. However Jones’ lecture specifically examined the relationship between the eversion and the digital humanities. Posing the same questions again as a digital humanist, it is not clear who can remain off grid or unaware of the eversion that has occurred. Its full relationship with the digital humanities is still to be explored, in part because the digital humanities is not a unified idea or structure. The freedom to exist as a kaleidoscopic community of intersecting centres, research institutes and in some cases factions, is an empowering aspect of digital humanities.

Work Cited

“Alleged gunman in ‘Pizzagate’ cases pleads not guilty to all charges” ABC News abcnews.go.com/US/alleged-gunman-pizzagate-case-pleads-guilty-counts/story?id=44243444. Accessed 18 December 2016.

Goeller, Kelly ‘Pixel Pour’ kelloworld.com/pixel-pour-1. Accessed 18 December 2016.

Jones, Steven E. “Digital Humanities after the ‘eversion'” DAH Conference. Trinity Long Room Hub, Dublin City. 18 November 2016. Keynote Address.

Manovich, L. “The Poetics of Augmented Space.” Visual Communication, vol. 5, no. 2, SAGE Publications, June 2006, pp. 219–240.

“What doxxing is and why it matters” The Economist theeconomist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/03/economist-explains-9. Accessed 18 December 2016.