Blog Post

An Inchoate Introduction

My birth into the 'digital' world had nothing to do with the humanities or the sciences, though perhaps, in some ways, it may have something to do with the sciences (I wanted to be able to see what NASA is doing while also connect with hackers, geeks and infomaniacs worldwide). It all started with the Bulletin Board Service (BBS) sometime in the mid 1990s, before the internet made its way to Malaysia. It was exciting to dial up to a service, write in message boards, play online RPGs, download shareware/freeware and writes scripts that make-pretend you're a kick-ass hacker. And then, went to peer-to-peer modem connect, where someone can dial right up into your computer that's hooked up to your modem and to your phoneline (thus promising that nobody can dial-in while you're hooked on it for hours on end). And then, you can even start your own bulletin board service, if you like, with any of the shareware out there. You create your own online 'educational' board for free information exchange. You can even find collaborators for projects, even though as teenagers, you had no inkling of that word.

Then came the Internet, though broadband would not come along for almost a decade. Of course, Internet was already around when i got on the BBS, so it overlapped with my first foray into the digital world that is not exclusive to my home 386XS PC. In the wild days of an under-regulated cyberworld, getting free information on any subject (well almost any) is easy, though perhaps less intuitive as that required real computing skills. The Gutenberg Project had been ongoing for awhile and ebooks on non-copyrighted and on subjects of interest to geeks were already in existence, in HTML, XHTML, ASCII, TXT, JPG, GIF and any file formats that can be opened by a text-editor or browser. This was before corporations made the cyberworld their turf and begin cracking down on 'intellectual property violation.' Chatrooms were already around, and in the days before Net-Nanny and what-not, you do not think about the possible pedophile lurking behind an alluring nickname. This is because the community is small, self-governing and frankly, not pervasive enough for a predator. Of course, Julian Dibbell's Rape In Cyberspace was already composed by that time, but he was thinking about trolls and schizophrenic online personalities with boundary issues rather than real-life predators.

There was no creative commons but codes were freely shared all around. I remember asking for physics homework help at a #physics chat channel that college kids, postdocs and even some professors (or they could be pretending to be one), all older than me, were hanging around, and the hilarity of trying to type math equations without the help of a special character formatter.  Lots of scientist and technical people who populated the cyberspace, but no humanist. By the time humanists came, the cyberworld has vastly transformed. It is no longer frontierland, even though one can do more things than ever before, with new tools, new language developed exclusively for use on the Web and new platforms. Of course, trolls are no longer geeks with anti-social behavior but could be your next-door sex offender.

As we humanist arrive into an increasingly complex, regulated and yet less transparent world (I always believe that the logic of internet works like the logic of generations in computer language, the higher the generation, the more 'user-friendly' yet less transparent), what exactly is our role in it. What can we offer to the world, not just in terms of technological development, in which the techies could surpass our capacity in programming skills, but in terms of a different form of creativity that we can bring to it. And what is this creativity? How can we concoct a sort of humanities geekiness that will be taken seriously by those who had been pioneers in this once untamed land? I believe that my foray as a Hastac Scholar is to very much discover and contribute to this. Are we the new generation of hackers and tinkerers that do not supersede the technology-savvy hackers of yesteryears and who are still very much part of the landscape (though less glamorous ever since Hollywood lost interest in churning out more movies about them), but who perform a different form of hacking and tinkering?


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