I‘d written I would update the previous post instead of posting new ones as the day evolved, but I’ve realised that my day goes through so many different motions it may make more sense to have different posts so there are different ‘nodes’, so to speak, throughout my blogged day.
Something I’ve thought a lot in 8, 9 years of blogging is how the awareness of an audience changes the way one represents one’s self. Especially in a professional setting, how much information is ‘too much’ information? I think Digital Humanities, within the academia, is facing the challenge of playing with the blurring borders between the personal and the professional, the often artificial difference between what constitutes our ‘private lives’ and what belongs to the realm of ‘work’. (Unlike other professionals, I keep receiving academic work emails at all times 7 days a week). I am writing this from the perspective of a PhD student, but also as someone who has taught at undergraduate level and whose former students, sometimes from as far as 7 years ago, read what I publish online.
So I guess we are all taking for granted that this blogging our day in a life is confined within a particular discursive framework, where there are expectations of a certain kind. I believe Digital Humanities, by embracing personal blogging for example, is emphasising the need to remember that the ‘humanist’ part of the term, understood here as concerning ‘the human’, does affect the way we relate to and think about ourselves as human beings and particularly in relation to technology.
I was thinking about this in the gym this morning. I try to go to the gym at least three times a week, but because I’m doing now a shorter routine I am trying to go every day. As someone who works sitting at the computer for at least 10 hours a day, going to the gym is a question of survival. Unlike what some people may think the gym is for me a place to think and concentrate. It is the quintessential physical space defined by interactive design. Working out in a gym, regardless of what kind of exercise we do or what machines we use, is based on human-machine interaction. What a piece of work is a human body! And even the simplest of weights is an amazing piece of machinery, designed with the human body in mind.
My gym is a small one but like many other gyms in the economically-developed world it’s a place for screens. Screens and mirrors: going to the gym is about monitoring human-machine interaction. To go in an infra-red scanner reads the barcode on my card, which shows my personal information, including my photo, on a computer screen. The cardiovascular machines have screens so you can monitor what you are doing: speed, intensity, different interval training programmes, etc. You can plug your headphones and choose to listen to one of the four giant plasma TV screens showing different information. Usually the gym’s PA will be playing the audio from the music channel, but you will also be seeing the news channel, the sports channel and whatever the other morning TV channel is. It’s a complete multimedia, multisensorial experience. ‘Total screen’, as Baudrillard would famously write.
There are of course other things that get acted out in a gym, so ’screen’ does not only mean here the machinery’s displays, CCTV cameras, workstations where personal trainers keep track of the members’ progress, TV screens, mirrors and more mirrors. The gym, like the library, is a place for inwardness: though many people think of it as a social activity and chat more than they train, when you go early in the morning we are usually people who are not fooling around: we are there to train, but we are all focusing on many things at the same time, usually what we have to do next. It’s sheer multitasking. (I do not carry my mobile phone with me when working out; some people do, which I find annoying. I do sometimes take my iPod though, and listen to podcasts, usually interviews or lectures related to my research topic I have missed in ‘real time’.)
Going to the gym has helped me to remain human while working with digital technology most of the hours of my day. Online research forces me to sit for long hours in frankly ‘dehumanising’ body postures. Beyond the obvious health benefits, the gym is for me a laboratory to think about what digital humanism is. In the gym I have thought about the importance to rethink the idea of ‘The Man Machine’ [YouTube video] towards an ongoing, ever-changing discussion of the relationship between machine and human body, and what makes us what we are or are becoming.
The previous 794 words have only covered one hour of my morning. Then come trains, laptop, mobile phone, underground transport, cash machines, library cards, passwords, power plugs, desks, library, work, work, work, and writing this in the library. I’ll post about that later today.
If you’ve taken the time to read all of the above, thank you.