Steve Jones and the Humanities, Everted

Steve Jones was a Distinguished Visiting Professor for the Advanced Research Collaborative at The Graduate Center last year (2014-2015), and as a result, I had the chance to hear him speak a few times. One of the features I admire about his work is the way it traces beginnings to moments of critical mass–certainly a goal of the introduction and first chapter of his 2013 book, The Emergence of the Digital Humanities. As I understand, Jones is now working on a history of Father Busa, the so-called founding father of digital humanities-type research who produced a concordance of Saint Thomas Aquinas using IBM’s computers around the 1950s. This project, like his others, suggests a common methodology: return to historical roots for new ways of thinking, uncover institutional forces that shaped movements, and interrogate these systems to highlight their current digital and networked instantiations.

Something that has struck me throughout this course is the intense relevance of science fiction, and thinking to Cory Doctorow, young adult versions of this genre, to imagining digital futures. Jones uses the work of William Gibson–who also coined the term “cyberspace”–to refine the term “eversion” (also Gibson’s word) for conceiving of our relationship to technology anew. For Jones, “eversion” is the idea that we no longer tune in to digital worlds, or engage with networks by booting up or down a computer, but that the omnipresence of the network creeps outward into our daily lives and physical space. The WiFi waves that surround our bodies when we’re in networked buildings, the GPS in our phones (GPS is a huge turning point for Jones’ argument about eversion, perhaps worthy of classroom discussion) that tracks our location on grids, gaming devices like the Wii, all indicate that we are surrounded by the stuff of digitality and can no longer contain it in a tiny screen or device. This idea dovetails with Hayles’ argument from How We Became Posthuman that information is material, suggesting, in part, that what’s at stake in Jones’ argument–although he doesn’t necessarily pick this up–is what it means to be human in an everted age. Perhaps Haraway might have something to add!

Jones covers much ground in the first two sections of The Emergence of the Digital Humanities, but by far the most resonant and applicable idea that I’ve extracted is that of “eversion.” Since this term is also the organizing principle for his book, in lieu of a blow-by-blow of the readings, I’ll trot right to the provocations:

***The introduction ends with Jones’ statement that “the digital humanities is the humanities everted” (16). As evidence, he suggests that “DH has the potential to facilitate…productive breaches, to afford the kinds of cultural exchange that have shaped the new DH since its emergence” both inside and outside of the academy (16). Do you agree with his assessment of DH constituted an everted humanities? I’ve been chewing on this one a while.

***Related to eversion, Jones suggests that “the new DH starts from the assumption of a new, mixed-reality humanities” (32) that functions “less like an academic movement and more like a transitional set of practices at a crucial juncture, on the one hand moving between old ideas of the digital and of the humanities, and on the other hand, moving toward new ideas about both.” Looping about around to Haraway and Hayles (very poetic at the end of the semester), how might we build further nuance into this argument? Are “mixed-reality humanities” depending on either student or institutional economic stability/wealth, ideological systems, or perhaps combinations of other factors?

***Jones makes an important distinction in his definition of eversion by noting that the network doesn’t turn “itself inside out,” but rather “human agency” accomplishes this task–just how “games require players” and “digital humanities research requires scholar-practitioners” (36). Many of our course themes have attempted to account for human elements in digital research and pedagogy–it always comes back to the embodied self. How do we continue to negotiate the balance between concepts and theories like eversion and the human elements that are inherent in their animation?

4 thoughts on “Steve Jones and the Humanities, Everted

  1. Robert P. Robinson (he/him/his)

    Also thinking about “mixed reality…”

    Jojo, YES, I am thinking about the way that “machines and processes are mixed up in our reality.” I guess I am also considering the impact of social media practices on socio-cultural/sociolinguistic shifts. I am guilty of using text-speech in conversation, and the “Netflix and chill” conversations we hear in other social media spaces–and day-to-day exchanges–are terms popularized by Black Twitter. “Bye, Felicia” from Friday (1995) finds new life in 2015 as it moves from social media, to conversation, and then to Bitmoji images. The digi-space creates newer ways to define popular culture that sends visuals, cliches, and so on through new cycles. Language is just one example; I am also considering Instagram’s impact on fashion and Vine’s contributions to comedy. These exchanges of culture remind me of Jones’ conversation of Minority Report (forgive the reach) and its prophetic extension. Yes, we are in a state of mutual shaping, but at the end of each digital exchange is a human presence. I guess I am stepping into the “other factors” category to suggest that culture could also be an overarching space that facilitates/contributes to/is altered by this mixed reality?

  2. Jojo Karlin (she/her/hers)

    The Priest and the Punchcards!
    I am thinking lots about the versions of DH and the types of projects that comprise the work of DH — from the hardcore hardware to the software to the cultural theoretical. To respond to your provocation regarding mixed-reality, I guess I would say, in light of Jean Bauer’s “Baking Gingerbread as a DH Project,” that I’m leaning towards understanding eversion in terms of a media archaeological approach to scholarship. Rather than the DH must DO something model of Ramsay, I am interested in the ways our machines and processes are mixed up in our reality.

    In his presentation on City Tech’s cloud computing at the #CUNYIT15 Conference, Junior Tidal mentioned how many of the library’s users are still accessing their records with dial-up modems. For smartphone users, material eversion seems pretty concrete. I wonder how we incorporate the overlapping technologies into the metaphorical turning inside out of digital tech.

    1. Sara Vogel, PhD. (she/her)

      The idea that some people are accessing library collections with dial up modems is why I liked how Jones interpreted the idea of eversion as a messy and uneven process where the network is “leaking”, and “spilling guts out into the world…”

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