he humanities are in crisis again, or still. But there is one big exception: digital humanities, which is a growth industry. In 2009, the nascent field was the talk of the Modern Language Association (MLA) convention: “among all the contending subfields,” a reporter wrote about that year’s gathering, “the digital humanities seem like the first ‘next big thing’ in a long time.” Even earlier, the National Endowment for the Humanities created its Office of Digital Humanities to help fund projects. And digital humanities continues to go from strength to strength, thanks in part to the Mellon Foundation, which has seeded programs at a number of universities with large grants—most recently, $1 million to the University of Rochester to create a graduate fellowship.
Despite all this enthusiasm, the question of what the digital humanities is has yet to be given a satisfactory answer. Indeed, no one asks it more often than the digital humanists themselves. The recent proliferation of books on the subject—from sourcebooks and anthologies to critical manifestos—is a sign of a field suffering an identity crisis, trying to determine what, if anything, unites the disparate activities carried on under its banner. “Nowadays,” writes Stephen Ramsay in Defining Digital Humanities, “the term can mean anything from media studies to electronic art, from data mining to edutech, from scholarly editing to anarchic blogging, while inviting code junkies, digital artists, standards wonks, transhumanists, game theorists, free culture advocates, archivists, librarians, and edupunks under its capacious canvas.”
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Steve Fuller is a sociology professor who’s interested in how technological enhancements can improve the human body and mind. This could lead to a world full of superhumans, like Robocop but without the desire to brutalise criminals. There’s a whole movement that thinks this way and it’s called transhumanism. The idea is that technology can help us live longer, be stronger and faster and more intelligent, and generally make us better human beings than the pathetic mortals we are now.
So, maybe in a near future, race and wealth divides will be replaced by those who have technological enhancements and those who are just boring old flesh and blood. Maybe we’ll go to the doctors for updates similar to those for computer software, or there’ll be plastic surgery for the brain. Maybe you didn’t get that job because a cyborg had a better CV than you. Sounds like sci-fi, but it could be reality if the transhumanists are right. Let’s just hope we don’t end up looking like rejects from the Black Eyed Peas.
VICE: Your new book’s called Humanity 2.0. Do you think, as a species, we need upgrading?
Let’s put it this way: Humans are distinguished from other creatures by our seemingly endless need for collective upgrading. In many cases, we didn’t ‘need’ these enhancements to survive as a species. For example, without mass vaccines, Homo sapiens would still be around, though there would probably be fewer of us and we’d live shorter lives. However, we have ‘needed’ these upgrades to define ourselves as a species – to create some distance between ourselves and the other animals: namely, we are the animal that tries to comprehend and control not just the immediate physical environment, but everything. Humans have been acting on this idea – or fantasy – for at least the last four of five hundred years.
By Kevin Holmes at VICE. Continue HERE