Some thoughts on “Niceness” and the Yack-Hack Cycle

So apparently Twitter exploded yesterday, in that way that Twitter has of “exploding.” I missed it thanks to back-to-back meetings, a long commute, and a desire to spend time with my husband rather than check social media.

On any other day, I would probably be pissed as hell. But it’s not any other day. It’s September 11th, and I’m a New Yorker. I’m a New Yorker who watched a real explosion, who still lives with the fallout, and who tries to hallow the memory of the dead on that day and in all the wars since by studying diplomacy and seeking new ways of communicating in the hope of finding common ground.

Part of that search lead me to Digital Humanities. Some are now saying that Digital Humanities is too dysfunctional to be considered a community. Maybe that just makes us a family. I don’t know. I do know we’ve become quite comfortable with name calling over the past few years. We said we wanted a bigger tent and now we’re pulling the poles from the ground. Growth pains are inevitable, but vindictiveness, suspicion, and careless dismal of pain are choices. 140 characters may be just enough space for the cut direct, but we don’t have to give it.

And speaking of Twitter, if Digital Humanities has taught me anything, it is that we are called to be thoughtful, critical users of technology. Tools and workflows shape our content, whether it is fixed menu categories or editorial practices. But we (should) know enough to explain our choices. There is no web authoring platform so restrictive it cannot have an About page or tool so small it doesn’t need a Readme.md file that explains the creator’s intentions.

There are no self-signifying technologies. We choose our tools in full knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. We build tools knowing our own limitations. At any given moment the tool is what is it is, whether you built it or someone else did. The choice to use it is yours, and you owe it to yourself and your scholarly community, to explain the choices you made. When our best faith efforts to promote openness and share our knowledge exclude others or warp perceptions in unacceptable ways then it’s time for us to take responsibility, to apologize, and to figure out how to fix it.

This is the Yack-Hack Cycle. It’s not a debate. There is no “right side.” We theorize, we model, we build, we reflect, we tweak. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I was on nowviskie.org earlier today and watched the letters fall down the side. At one point a capital H and a capital D came into view and danced with each other down the screen.

DH
HD
DH
HD
Digital Humanities
Humanidades Digitales
Digital Humanities
Humanidades Digitales

It reminded me of Isabel Galina’s incredible closing keynote at DH 2013 in Lincoln, Nebraska. If you haven’t already watched it, do so ASAP http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6dP66JMwgc or read it here http://humanidadesdigitales.net/blog/2013/07/19/is-there-anybody-out-there-building-a-global-digital-humanities-community/

This brilliant, insightful younger woman stood at the same podium Willard McCarty had spoken from the night before and, in her second language, quietly (and I would say nicely) told the international community of Digital Humanists that we are not nearly as nice as we want to believe. We exclude people on the basis of language, culture, gender, geography, finances, and access to cyberinfrastructure. Ignorance or mistaken good intentions doesn’t get us off the hook, they just commit us to fixing the problem. She then listed a number of tasks ranging from simple to complex that will help address those issues. I was floored, humbled, and inspired.

I am part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution. But after seven years in DH, I know I am not alone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *