Friday, May 11, 2007

n00b Tube

Maybe it was all that talk in the ARG about the looming gas crisis and the fact that I'm off to Holland tomorrow, but I decided not to drive to UC San Diego yesterday. I had intended to see the latest round of CalIT2 talks with the rather unfortunate title of Californovation, which may sound a little too much like a Red Hot Chili Peppers album to my taste. Thankfully, I didn't miss it, since the event was webcast live and should soon also be posted to their YouTube channel. I had tuned in primarily to hear Lev Manovich's talk, who argued that Humanists should rethink the tools that they use for teaching and research to capitalize on new data visualization techniques and powerful analytics that can represent primary sources that document the human experience on a much larger scale than was ever before possible. Manovich argued that we should grapple with more "big data" and "real-time simulations." He claims that using a common language and sharing methods of analysis could improve the conversations going on within the academy and the research being done on behalf of a larger citizenry. As someone who is slated to teach in the experimental teaching classroom in Fall, in our Teaching, Learning & Technology Center, I feel like the rich multiscreen multimedia learning experience that Manovich modeled still is not coming soon enough. I also was surprised that no one suggested that his commitment to making very large databases of the world's photography, music, and film easily available for comparison and close reading in the space of the classroom might be thwarted by anxious copyright holders. From a Virtualpolitik standpoint, I thought that his attention to the use of digital media by Transparency International to fight corruption globally was a particularly interesting case study. He also announced the formation of an interesting new critical code studies program with VP pal Noah Wardrip-Fruin.

Not everyone was as sure about Manovich's program of action, and the topic of "epistemological humility" came up several times in the discussion. Cathy Davidson of Duke, who recently hosted the HASTAC conference, pointed out that this exchange should work both ways, so that humanistic tools and methods are also valued. She also argued that certain economies of specialization may be at work and that she couldn't contribute much very efficiently to coding projects with her ancient programming skills in FORTRAN. A few minutes afterwards, ironically, I signed up for a summer course in 3-D design using Maya. After a semester learning ActionScript for Flash, I'm not nearly as intimidated by the prospect, and it may actually help me better understand some of my objects of study. Maya is also a software package that Manovich has pointed to as a further example of his transcoding thesis, since soon we will all be driving Maya-looking cars and work in Maya-looking buildings.

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