Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Jun 2018

Exploring ‘Digital Humanism’

There are a few terms worth talking about — or maybe it is just the phrase which needs to find its way beyond the unexplored shores it speaks towards — and that is the term “digital humanism.” It is a subject we will be speaking on for a few months as there’s something brewing in that space towards Avanceé’s offerings and so it makes sense to start to suss out what the term means (at least right now), and where we might see it go from being “unexplored territories” to “way of existing fully.”

In agreement with Dean Bubley, using the term “digital” is a bit troublesome However, it is a bit of a transitional term to use to describe a bit of what’s mean by the phrase digital humanism. Simply put, there’s an acknowledgement that connectivity, communication, and productivity has taken on the nature of calculated (algorithmic) dealings, in addition to spiritual (religious and psychosocial) and physical (senses) definitions. To contextualize this (for the moment) by the augmented nature mobiles have provided many people — there’s some argument to dictate mobile devices and their connective threads have become an augmented body part — seems to get us down the line that being digitally augmented adds something (or takes something away) from what we understand as humanity.

And yet the second part of this term might be all the more troublesome. Humansim or being humane or what does it mean to be human is as much a philosophical question as it is an egotistical one. For decades, it was taught that humans were the only animals with structured language, yet this has been found in animals from crows, to dolphins, to bacteria. It has been assumed that the distinction to humanity was spirituality, however elephants and other animals which bury and morn over their dead seem to also share this perspective and similar traits. We talk about our ability to embed our mind into the environment around us through the making of tools and shaping of our environment, yet there are octups who make tools and shape reefs, birds who create hammers and drills, and even a virus which creates a drill out of materials within a cell in order to pierce DNA strands. Suffice to say, defining humanity by what we do seems to be a tenuous place in which to define what we are.

So then, what does it mean to be human? And does being augmented by silicon and electricity add to or take away from this defintion? Without clarity on the latter, the adjective before seems in need of a better anchor. We seem to mean digital as meaning powered by non-analog computing systems and processes. We want it to mean being in and around Internet and web-like services with some sense of fluidity. We say it in the context of, “don’t give me paper and make me send it by postage, but use a form and relational database and relationships between your switchboard and mine to say hello.” To be digital seems to want to mean, a process of letting sand and electricity augment whatever it is I am doing. And yet, to be human goes well beyond what “I” am doing.

This will be explored a good bit further in future pieces; but to start here with a term (digital humanism) and let Avanceé’s content and practices shape what we mean in using this term seems a healthy aim forward. From here, well, that’s to just be found when we get there.