‘tuning’, methaphors and a lack of theory? DRHA2010

Another interesting keynote during DRHA was that of Richard Coyne. Richard’s keynote was entitled Walking with Smartphones: Mobile Devices and Bodily Practices. He had originally intended to talking about mobile technology but from seeing a few of the conference presentations he decided to tweak or ‘tune’, if you will, his talk to focus on The Tuning of Place which acts as a metaphor for understanding pervasive digital media and its impacts and for thinking about sensual technologies. It was a very thought provoking talk, despite Coyne stretching the tuning a metaphor a bit too far, there is only so many times you can say ‘metaphor’ and ‘tuning’ in an hour long talk before those words begin to irritate.

Anyway, Richard suggests the idea of ‘tuning’ as a metaphor for the many ways in which we continuously adjust ourselves to our environments and to each other. That all of our ubiquitous devices and the networks that support them become the means of making incremental adjustments within spaces—of tuning place. But how exactly do pervasive digital devices—smartphones, iPods, GPS navigation systems, and cameras, among others—influence the way we use spaces? Richard believes that digital devices’ capacity to introduce small changes helps us to formulate a sense of place, in the same way that tuning a musical instrument invokes the process of recalibration.

Some key points Richard raised:

  • The tuning of place -Tuning is a really good metaphor for understanding pervasive digital media and its impacts and for thinking about sensual technologies
  • Places are inhabited spaces, populated by people, their concerns, memories, stories, conversations, encounters, and artefacts. The tuning of place—whereby people use their devices in their interactions with one another—is also a tuning of social relations.
  • Synchronization – clocks helped to give human enterprise the regular collective beat the rhythm of the machine for the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of hours, but of synchronizing ( Mumford 1934). Tuning is a more nuanced term for synchronisation.
  • Adjustment – the necessity of adjustment. Pragmatic tweaking and tuning in architecture. Processes of tuning can lead to consideration of themes highly relevant to pervasive computing: intervention, calibration, wedges, habits, rhythm, tags, taps, tactics, thresholds, aggregation, noise, and interference.
  • The digital tourist -The gaze of the tourist renders extraordinary activities that otherwise would be mundane and everyday. Tourist destinations can be sensuously ‘other’ to everyday routines and places.
  • Lessons for design:
    • From concentrations of expertise to the democratization of innovation
    • From mobile phones to fully featured smart phones
    • Form users to actors
    • From the synchronization of schedules to the tuning of social relations

What was interesting was the discussion that was being held on Twitter during the presentation, which focused on the fact that this presentation was heavy on theory. The whole conference was heavy on theory. Prompting Andrew Prescott to tweet “I feel deeply un-theorized” and “I think digital humanities has to engage deeply with theory and metaphor, otherwise it is just poor man’s computer science.”

I was resistant to Andrew’s comments at first, simply because ‘tuning’ although it was a great idea, hurt my brain. Coming from the professional sector into Academia has made me abandon quite a lot of theory uptake. In my previous job I had to put academic theory into public practice. I am interested in the practicalities, does it work in the real world approach. But I think Andrew is right, that has to change. I need to engage more with theory. But doing so is a daunting task. But another more worrying thought is that it’s not just me that needs to engage with theory more, but the discipline as a whole. More often than not it appears that the DH community has placed emphasis on development and implementation of let’s face it some pretty cool things, over theory. Is this intentional? is DH more concerned about the practicality of the stuff rather than theory? How do we as a whole become more theoretical about what we do? Particularly in an economic climate which means that we have to produce things harder, faster, stronger with fewer resources available to us and our institutions. Will a cut back in project funding from research councils, force us to slow down and think about the consequences and get back into the world of theory? It will be interesting to see how it all pans out, using grounded theory perhaps…

Library as Automatic memory: Chris Pressler – You are Shakespeare:the purpose and power of the global Library

First keynote of the day at the first full day of DRHA 2010 belonged to Chris Pressler who spoke about You are Shakespeare-the purpose and power of the global Library. It was a brilliant provocative talk, not only could you tell that he loves the subject but he managed to engage the audience with it too. Below are my quick and dirty notes; I hope someone finds them useful. I have reached information overload and have failed to turn them into a proper post. One point did stick with me which was libraries being described as ‘automatic memory’. I really like this, because its true, its where I have gone and where I continue to go when I want to find information, or have forgotten a factoid that I have seen in a book somewhere. The only difference is, instead of going to the town library as I did when I was a child, I now have thousands of libraries at my finger tips, or round the corner from my office, which is also handy. Chris also showed several videos during his keynotes the best one was this (Its well worth a watch! Its brilliant):

• Broader reflection on what libraries mean and how they are used
• Is the library sensory? Historically library has so many signifiers – a basis for truth and power and knowledge
• The act of collecting – history of the library – The beginnings of the library in Greco-roman antiquity – collection of knowledge which is passed down from society to society, across cultures
• The library of antiquity was also global. The only collection of its kind. Only smaller, than our global library today
• Knowledge can be passed from generation to generation, narrative unbroken and incorruptible
• Books mean power
• We are now consumers and producers of digital information, yet there is a massive inequality of access – a digital divide
• Our culture may be bigger and more complex than antiquity; however a distinct lack of progress has been made to communicate fully.
• How many books are there?
• All printed books will be made available online
• Google – largest transfer of knowledge from one format to another (print to digital)
• What constitutes a book?
• ISBNs only been around since mid 60s. Western phenomenon. Ever since they had become a standard, they have then been used in an un-standardised way. Unique isbns aren’t necessarily unique with several books, pamphlets, tshirts all sharing the same identifer
• Google is trying to collect metadata from lots of providers producing almost 1 billion records, narrowed down to 660million books, however there are still duplications
• Record similarity – attributes hard to distinguish and create an algorithm to do so.
• Google doesn’t put much trust in author, title etc
• Estimate of 210 million books
• 146million of printed and bound books in the world
• Packaging is more important than content? or content is more important than packaging?
• Where is this knowledge heading?
• The library of the future is one without doors and without fees. This should not sound idealistic.
• Scholarly communication has far too long been a triangular view of academic, publisher and library.
• Design new models for scholarly communication. Drivers for change the crippling charges for journals.
• Compromise is answer – what could be called the duet model.
• Freely accessible online version of the book actually increases teh sales of the published paper version.
• The act of reading (ebooks)
• Debate over the acceptance of ejournals. This is pretty much over, the majority of journals are published online and in print
• The new debate is over ebooks
• Does the use of an e-reader enhance the experience of reading?
• Will ebooks alter how libraries are used, and what they are actually for?
• Affected by where you come from -See the world from a prism
• The creed of the librarian (no political, no religions and no morals)
• Books are for use, every book its reader, every reader its book, save the time of the reader, a library is a growing organism
• Library described as “Automatic memory”
• A store needs a key the librarian provides it
• You are Shakespeare
• Quotes Phillip larkin – ignorance
Strange to know nothing, never to be sure
Of what is true or right or real,
But forced to qualify or so I feel,
Or Well, it does seem so:
Someone must know.

Strange to be ignorant of the way things work:
Their skill at finding what they need,
Their sense of shape, and punctual spread of seed,
And willingness to change;
Yes, it is strange,

Even to wear such knowledge – for our flesh
Surrounds us with its own decisions –
And yet spend all our life on imprecisions,
That when we start to die
Have no idea why.

• The global library is always going to be mixed media. So much for the death of print and the fall of the global library.

Question from the audience about what constitutes knowledge, are we talking about knowledge or simply text? Knowledge and text appear to be synonymous rather that knowledge being associated with other media. Other Ouputs are just as valid. How do librarians deal with that?