DigLibArts 2020: “Only Connect”

This is the first in a series of posts on DigLibArts 2020 Initiative (#dla2020) in support of sustainable innovation in the liberal arts. It is cross-posted on the blog at Diglibarts.whittier.edu.

Ubiquitous technology challenges us to ponder and practice the values that motivate us as individuals and unite us as a community.

Digital technology can isolate us. With headphones in place, screens held up to our eyes, and thoughts far away from the present moment, we can ignore the person sitting next to us. Focused on recording a moment for posterity (or, at least, Instagram), we take photos of our food while we forget to enjoy its flavor. Intent on achieving the next level of a game, we neglect those we love.

How can we free ourselves from the distractions of chiming alerts and the desire to be virtually “liked”? Can we liberate our attention? Can mindfulness coexist with the conveniences of digital technology? Can the classroom become a space for community enriched by technology rather than distracted by it?

We know that ubiquitous computing (the cell phone in our pocket, for example) offers us many conveniences. Youtube how-to videos simplify household chores. GPS enables us to navigate Los Angeles traffic. Cell phone cameras record precious memories, while social media can connect us with others who share our interests. What we need, then, is to learn to use, misuse, and change technology so that it sustains rather than undermines our connections with ourselves and each other.

One of my academic heroes, Bill Cronon (@wcronon), argues that just such learning is the central purpose of liberal education. Drawing inspiration from E.M. Forster’s mandate to “only connect,” Cronon concludes his deliberation on the value of a liberal education, “Only Connect: The Goals of a Liberal Education”:

“Liberal education nurtures human freedom in the service of human community, which is to say that in the end it celebrates love. Whether we speak of our schools or our universities or ourselves, I hope we will hold fast to this as our constant practice, in the full depth and richness of its many meanings: Only connect.”

How does technology support or undermine our liberal arts mission? Can we repurpose digital technology and social media to enhance our interconnections, to nurture our community values, and to contribute to our individual and collective well-being? What is the relationship between digital connections and consensus? Between supporting first generation collegians and digital literacies? Between information literacies and computing? This post is full of questions, and there are so many more worth asking and worth answering–together.

That is the purpose of the DigLibArts 2020 initiative: to support the Whittier College community’s ability to share, discuss, research, study, and hopefully come to consensus on the questions and solutions we are individually pondering. The purpose of DigLibArts 2020, in E.M. Forster’s words, is “only connect.”

What questions or challenges are you pondering? Thanks to a $700,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, DigLibArts will be offering to support faculty and staff creativity by connecting you with others on campus and off. Read more at here about DigLibArts 2020 vision and our new learning community opportunities.


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