Cathy Davidson: Opening Remarks

WELCOME! I am Cathy Davidson, Interim Director of the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University and a co-founder of HASTAC, along with David Theo Goldberg, Director of the University of Californias Humanities Research Institute. H-A-S-T-A-C is an acronym that stands for Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory. Everyone just says haystack. It is my pleasure and privilege to be able to welcome you tonight.

Welcome to our talk this evening by John Seely Brown, the intellectual and spiritual godfather of the Information Age and, we are pleased to say, of HASTAC. His talk will be followed by a reception in the Nasher atrium, with live music by thereminist Steve Burnett, to which you are all invited. This is the first of three events open to the public as The Future of Learning. The orange programs will provide you with information about the other events to follow on Saturday.

Welcome to the opening of Electronic Techtonics: Thinking at the Interface, our first-ever international HASTAC conference. The three Future of Learning Events are the public events sponsored by HASTAC as part of our first international gathering. Tomorrow marks the beginning of our events for conference registrants. If you are a conferee and have not received a copy of the summary program, you can pick one up at the reception tonight.

Welcome to those watching this webcast to the eighth of our nine distributed In|Formation Year events sponsored by HASTAC and over eighty affiliated universities, humanities centers, science centers, museums, libraries, and civic organizations who have been responsible for a full-year of programming around In|Formation themes. The themes and host institutions are: InCommon (led by UIUC), Interplay (USC), In Community (National University), Interaction (UC Berkeley, Mills College, and Stanford), Integration (Wayne State), Injustice (Michigan), Invitation (Washington), Interface (Duke), and, coming on May 10, Innovation (sponsored by UCHRI). We believe all of those topicsfrom injustice to innovationare key to understanding our Information Age.

Welcome to the culminating event of our John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Seminar on Interface at Duke University, a yearlong examination of relationships between humans and machines, from the pre-Socratics to Virtual Reality. Co-convened by Professors Timothy Lenoir and Priscilla Wald, our Seminar has met weekly all year, and brings together sixteen faculty members, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, librarians, and technology innovators for weekly conversations. The Fellows in the Interface Seminar served as referees for the scholarly papers at the conference and will serve as session chairs and commentators throughout the conference.

Finally, WELCOME to the latest in the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations series of regional public events on digital media and learning. HASTAC is very proud to participate in the MacArthur Foundations exciting new initiative on Digital Media, Learning, and Education.

If six different welcomes are required, thats indicative of the kind of interlocking, networked projects sponsored by HASTAC. Nothing HASTAC does is linear. We are a network, not a traditional organization. We believe in what Tim OReilly calls Web 2.0, this generation of internet interactivity, social networking, customization, and collaboration. HASTAC may well be the first virtual university, a university without walls, departments, or even traditional disciplines, and we see our charge as making a contribution to lifelong learning, from cradle to grave. We believe that specialized academic knowledge should be put at the service of society at large. David Theo Goldberg and I came up with the idea in 2002, and since 2003 HASTAC has been meeting twice a year, supporting seminars and workshops, new courses, new programs, developing new technologies, forging new collaborations, working in communities, and, in other ways, combining our efforts and our ideas in order to promote innovative and collaborative models of thinking. We are entirely voluntary--an international knowledge network of educators and digital visionaries committed to the creative use and critical understanding of new technologies in life, learning, and society. Anyone can join, simply by registering on the HASTAC website, posting news releases or job openings or collaborative projects in our forum, or contributing ideas by using our open blog tools. You can exchange information there, find partners, and become as involved as you want to be. Or you can just go onto the site whenever you wish and find out whats happening. Our rules are minimal. Creative Commons licensing, and internet collaborative civility rule. Our goals are huge:

We are convinced that, if we work together, if we pool our resources, our ideas, our imagination, our skills, and our technologies, we can transform the Information Age into an Age of Understanding.

I know that sounds good, but what does it mean? Let me give you a brief example. Ive been fortunate to be a fellow this year in our Interface Seminar at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. As a fellow, I am released from half of my teaching responsibilities for the year in order to learn a new topic that I can then bring back to my future teaching and research. Even better, Im in the Seminar with seventeen other faculty, librarians, technology specialists, postdoctoral and doctoral students. We meet every week to discuss our evolving ideas together. For my project this year, Ive had the extraordinary privilege to spend my time reading about infant knowledge acquisitionhow do humans learn how to understand the world. Since Im not a neuroscientist, I have the flexibility to read everything and anything. It may sound like a very narrow area but, in fact, there are thousands of experiments, studies, articles, and books about how infants develop what philosopher Elizabeth Grosz calls concepts. What Ive found is that highly-trained specialists in one field often do not read in other fields. And very few in this area of infant cognition are aware of the whole human history (in all cultures) of thinkers who have analyzed the very nature of what a concept is. So a brilliant and creative lab experiment will often end with a generalization about the human mind that, from the long view of the humanities, is nothing short of sophomoric. By the age of fourteen months, one experiment shows, an infant can recognize members of its own race but the experimenters definition of race is so simplistic it is contradicted by the evidence he presents and thus undermines the significance of the experiment itself. But how could it be otherwise? Why should this superb cognitive psychologist be expected to know critical race theory? It would be like asking the person who engineered a high-performance car engine to also be responsible for designing the cars beautiful and aerodynamic exterior. If BMW has figured out the fine art of collaboration, why cant educators?

That is why we are here for the first international HASTAC conference. Since the late nineteenth-century, education has emphasized specialization, to the point that we now live in an era of knowledge segregation. But that has to change. There has never been a great age of science, in the history of any culture, without a coterminous flourishing of the arts and the humanities. The reason is obvious. New technologies change us. The brain is a learning machine and, with each technological development, we have different tools, different information, different transportation or communication that changes relationships between our minds and bodies and that of others. The substance that we learn changes how and what we learn. But it is the lessons of history, theory, philosophy, literature, and the arts that allow us to frame these changes, to categorize and conceptualize processes too minute and too extensive without such containment. Thomas Kuhn famously called this a paradigm shift. If science and technology create conditions by which a paradigm shift might occur, it is historians, philosophers, and artists who gather the discrete threads of influence and difference and make them into a narrative, a coherent and connected set of practices that mark and demarcate change. Thats the paradigm shift.

The Information Age is too important, too revolutionary, to be left solely to scientists. We need to capture this moment, understand it, exploit it, push it, make the most of it. The Information Age is too important for knowledge fragmentation. Without a concomitant shift in intellectual paradigms, we cannot make the vast scientific changes of our era meaning-full.

That is why we have gathered here a group of highly trained specialists who understand the need for rigorous collaboration. In this era of cutbacks to education, funding increasingly comes from national and private philanthropic agencies. Often these funding agencies also have segregated functions that reify the compartmentalizations of knowledge and, indeed, encourage one discipline or division to compete against the others for funding. So we are also fortunate enough to have at this conference top thinkers from many of the most important of these agencies who will help us theorize how we might move beyond the moments intellectual fragmentations. More practically, we hope, these funders will also have the opportunity to think of ways that they might collaborate between and across agencies to set new models for the universities who so depend upon their largess for support. We all need to work together to rethink the interfaces of fields and institutions.

We are contemplating the future of learning together--and we thank you for being part of this very exciting journey. If you look to your right and to your left, in front of you and behind you, you will see seminal thinkers from virtually every field of knowledge, from the academy and foundations, from K-12 education to policy makers. This is a very rare moment, an interface moment. Nothing quite like this has ever happened before. But, I promise you, on behalf of the HASTAC leadership group, that it will happen again. And again. And thus our motto for this gathering: "The future is somewhere here."