Digitality – a cultural phenomenon or just a chain of codes and numbers?

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In the last text, I was opening my ideas and thoughts about the broad field of understanding the present digital reality. I recognized the paradox of being same time a natural user of modern technology and a total outsider of understanding the digital world of numbers and codes. Anyway, my goal is to open up myself to this interesting, but challenging, academical field of digitality. Indeed, the question of being enough digital becomes relevant here. I ask myself: “What is my role as a humanist in the time of digital turn and mediatizing?”

Digitization

Let’s focus on the digitization itself. What kind of reality we are living in today? If there was not digital technology, how would our everyday-life be? As a matter of fact – what would my role be as a citizen in that case? Although I am focusing on the present and modern technology, it is interesting to think about when this cultural change began. Clay Shirky (Breaking the New News, 2010) sums this up well when he says that “everybody’s got a public voice” because of the media we have today. And all of this started already at the time of Gutenberg when suddenly there was the possibility to produce and communicate a lot of information – a lot more than before. Since then we people have been craving for more information‚ more voice; more power.

It is obvious that there was more than to invent the printing press. From the perspective of the present, we can identify one essential turn towards modern digital reality. Kenneth Nyberg (see references) defines how computer gradually became a more common and mundane product after World War II. The more rapid development in modern technology since the Millennium has its effects in our society. According to Nyberg, it is not only about younger generations which are using technology more naturally than the older ones. Actually, it is important to understand how contemporary society has become dependent on digital technology and devices. As I understand this, the digital revolution matters because of digitization on a big scale. It explains our society – how society and its structures are dependent on digital technology and why such phenomena as social media are dominating today.

Digital humanities

There is no doubt with the statement that the digitality matters. There are clearly several dimensions in the contemporary digital society and culture that is necessary to study more. But. What is my role as a humanist in this process? Which impacts does digitality have in our society and culture? In which ways is it possible to analyse and interpret different digital phenomena? If I want to understand the digital reality, do I need to know the codes and numbers behind the surface?

All these questions become relevant when discussing the humanities in the contemporary digital society. Digital humanities, according to Haverinen and Suominen (2015), are a rather new science which studies several aspects in our digital society and culture. In contrast to many other sciences, digital humanities do not have long and old traditions and, in fact, science has several different definitions. Lately, there have been debates in academics about who has the right to call herself/himself as a digital humanist (Haverinen & Suominen, 2015). As I understand as a core of these debates, some scholars desire more knowledge in production and codes, while other scholars emphasize the role of language, culture and social interaction.

Lev Manovich (2012) represents those who require certain knowledge in digital software. He acknowledges that there obviously are cultural and societal phenomena which are influenced by the “digital”. Still, he wants to articulate everything digital (e.g. media) in our society are only numbers and codes in the end. As a matter of fact, we need software that makes codes possible to use and see for us. Manovich argues (2012) that there are not any “digital media”, only software which make it possible to have apparent media.

Does this mean that it is not possible to study and understand digital phenomena if you do not have knowledge of codes and numbers behind them? Manovich (2012) do not argue against any media and communication study but he wants to emphasize that the digital properties in media are dependent on software after all. So, the digital reality in the present does not emerge naturally. Anyway, modern digital culture is not only numbers and codes; software and applications; productive science and engineering. Especially in the time of smartphones and other digital technology, the digital participates almost in every sector of our lives. As Haverinen and Suominen (2015) point out, digital humanities focus on communicative and creative dimensions in the present society. The digital reality is materialized to us through textuality and visuality. Therefore, we need to understand the more mundane surface of the digital culture also.

As usual, there is no need to divide sciences into their own teams. There is no need to have one side which is grounded in engineering and another side which only focuses on social and cultural dimensions in the digital. As I understand, the challenge in digital humanities lies in its character to be flexible. Digital humanities combine several sciences and, that is why it is important to highlight how multidisciplinary this new field of science is. I see this both as beneficial and challenging. It is important to be able to see beyond traditional scholars and, instead, to form a new type of alliances which ground themselves on same questions and problems. Same time, I think it is challenging to find common methods to explore and study the digital society when different sciences originate from a different perspective. However, I believe that multidisciplinary methods become important more and more and, because of this, digital humanities are needed today.

References

Haverinen, Anna & Suominen, Jaakko (2015). “Koodaamisen ja kirjoittamisen vuoropuhelu? – Mitä on digitaalinen humanistinen tutkimus”. (http://www.ennenjanyt.net/2015/02/koodaamisen-ja-kirjoittamisen-vuoropuhelu-mita-on-digitaalinen-humanistinen-tutkimus/).

Manovich, Lev (2012). “Media After Software”. Journal of Visual Culture, 12(1), 30-37.

Nyberg, Kenneth. “Från stordatorer till sociala medier”. Retrieved 2019-01-18 from https://digihist.se/1-den-digitala-revolutionen/.

Breaking the New News (2010, January 11). Clay Shirky on the Accident of the Printing Press [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=FJlCkAz4D3o.

2 thoughts on “Digitality – a cultural phenomenon or just a chain of codes and numbers?

    1. Tack! 🙂 The text in Hesari shares quite an interesting idea of having a “machine whisperer”. Something I have not thought about before but it is one possible “careers” in the future. In the end, I hope, there still are human beings who need to use and interpret the digital reality.

      Like

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