Redefining the Humanities after the end of the Digital Humanities: Computing is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.


Media art pioneer Payson Stevens sends us this comment from Village Ghiyagi Indian Western Himalayas, Kullu Valley, Himachel Pradesh ! yes indeed our interconnected culture- among the point he makes  he refers Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s “Noosphere” and Marshall McLuhan’s “Global Village” as key conceptual framing ideas that are now injected into the Humanities and our concept of what it means to be human.

In his article that I referred to by Peter Denning ( ) he notes:

“All this leads us to the modern catchphrase: “Computing is the study of information processes, natural and artificial.” The computer is a tool in these studies but is not the object of study. As Dijkstra once said, “Computing is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.”

The term computational thinking has become popular to refer to the mode of thought that accompanies design and discovery done with computation. This term was originally called algorithmic thinking in the 1960s by Newell, Perlis and Simon, and was widely used in the 1980s as part of the rationale for computational science. To think computationally is to interpret a problem as an information process and then seek to discover an algorithmic solution.”

His quote : Computing is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes. of course resonates with me !\
Any way here is Payson Steven’s comment from the Himalayas:

Yes again to the end of the Digital Humanities ! Please !:

I read with keen interest Roger’s thoughts on branding existing disciplines with “digital” (d-astronomy, d-media, d-art, etc.). Terminology and classification are essential aspects of defining the world’s complexity and as Roger points out, many digital designates may not survive. “Digital Humanities” is probably an interim/historical phrase, especially applying it to something as broadly classified as “the humanities” (with all its sub-classifications). Yet “digital” is a useful subset descriptor/adjective, especially as technologies evolve. It can help to define specific time periods/trends/schools, the way cubist or impressionist does for art. There is a distinct difference in digital art that employs contemporary technologies (e.g. 3-D printing, Photoshop scan collages printed on different materials) versus a fine art painting using canvas, hand-held brush technique, and oils.


A larger aspect of discipline branding is how terms like humanism are applied and integrated into a larger philosophical view. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s “Noosphere” and Marshall McLuhan’s “Global Village” evolve, our interconnectedness is, in part, mediated/controlled by varying political systems and international corporate agendas. These can have less to do with humanistic values that offer a critique to these same systems, which care less about its ethics. The broader/more important question is how language, expressions, and meaning are transformed and often co-opted. This is especially true in our global market where continued consumption and “growth” are a key attributes of  “the good life,” in contradiction to more sustainable ecologies of our planet, behaviors, and mind—that are all desperately needed.

The word humanitas and associated concepts (e.g., “liberal feelings towards men without distinction”) goes back at least two millennia and even further when considering Eastern spiritual philosophies (e.g. Rig Veda, Buddhism). Humanism’s more modern definition: “…an ethical philosophy centered on humankind, without attention to the transcendent or supernatural….” (, evolved out of the Enlightenment and social upheavals of the 18th and 19th centuries (French Revolution, Paris Commune, Marxism, labor movement, etc.).


Between the mid-20th century and now, some critical paradigmatic word-terms have become more mutable: technology substitutes for science, love is replaced by sexuality, and culture supplants art. As words and concepts are appropriated and branded, their distinct and deeper meanings become lost. Worse, they are easily manipulated in the constant roar of social media humming away, with constant repetition (and slick branding) capable of morphing meaning almost anything (e.g. truthiness!).  For the humanist (a skeptic who feels society’s foundations are based on ethics and scientific objectivity), staying aware of how terminology evolves, with all its varying meanings, requires vigilance. Well-articulated critiques to powers that would discredit it are an essential part of humanist philosophy’s role in discovering truths that are indispensible for society to evolve with moral equality and individual autonomy.


The digital technology we’re creating is a transformative chapter in human history—a binary Rosetta Stone—that connects us in an ever-evolving inner and outer cyberspace. We’re creating/preserving/retrieving in multiple languages and formats—text/images/sounds—all with phenomenal value/opportunity offering well-described, conflicting potentials: connectivity and greater freedoms or personal intrusions and diminishing control.


As someone who has been involved with art, science, media, and technology for over 45 years, and helped pioneer the New Media in the 1980s-90s, I have recently been experimenting with creating “digital humanist” (sic) messages. These VideoTonePoems are auteur mash-ups of my video, music, and poetry reflecting on nature, the human condition (in the Age of the Anthropocene), and spirit. I offer them as contemplative moments, using digital technologies, to consider where we are. Here are two examples:


Web 2.0

Entropic Void:


More to consider at:


Payson R. Stevens

Village Ghiyagi Indian Western Himalayas,

Kullu Valley, Himachel Pradesh

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