What project(s) are you currently working on?
Right now I’m trying to develop more informal, web-based learning for students in our program. We’re starting to think in different ways about where you produce work, and what “counts” as academic work, because the challenges for students outside of their academic work are so different now. It’s so much more difficult to get up and running with contemporary media skills, which, if I’m honest, didn’t change all that much during the first half of this decade. But you can’t always go as deeply into the technical and representational possibilities of communications technology in the classroom as you’d like – you only have so much time.
I don’t think people generally identify what’s important as part of the “humanities,” not explicitly, and so sometimes it’s hard to deliberate about what’s good. It’s not like people pick up their iPhones and say “the STEM disciplines are really just so important to me.”
When you think about the problems that people face, though, the stuff that’s on the phone is right at hand for many people; what kind of questions do the technicians who make those solutions ask? The only thing an app really does is make some activity more convenient to that group of people who are able to use it. When those people mistake what’s convenient for what’s good, humanistic concerns become less important. So I think people who advocate for vulnerable or under-represented communities will draw on parts of that tradition to counter those who believe that automation is important, and kind of pull public discussions back into balance.
What shows are you currently binge-watching?
I’m watching season 3 of Fargo right now. Spoilers ahead. There’s this scene where the bad guy, who’s more or less the literal devil, greets this sadsack character who thinks he’s doing the right thing, who thinks he’s doing good in the face of evil. The bad guy says, “The problem is not that there is evil in the world. The problem is that there is good. Because, otherwise, who would care?” Feel free to apply that quote, probably irresponsibly, to your personal position on why the humanities are important.
I actually watch TV in pretty much the same way I did when I was young: weekly. I remember getting together with friends every week and watching MacGyver in college. And then I went looking for friends who liked better TV and I found people who watched Twin Peaks, so, I’m excited to watch the new season of Twin Peaks. Fun fact: they rebooted MacGyver, too, and somehow made it worse.
What's a book you've always wanted to read but haven't gotten around to?
I should probably write something impressive, but plausible, like Infinite Jest. I don’t want to read that book, though.
What is the worst job that you had while working through your degree and what would you tell your past self now?
I was a dishwasher at a lot of places. It sounds bad, but it wasn’t really. One time they made me host at a Pizzeria Uno, though, and that was the worst job I’ve ever had. All I had to do was put people in tables and make the occasional Caesar salad, and somehow people managed to yell at me constantly. The jukebox played Duncan Sheik’s “Barely Breathing” 918 times per shift.
I would tell my past self to put ten dollars’ worth of “The Boys Are Back in Town” directly into the jukebox. I would tell him to sit back and watch. It’s really an amazing song, though.
Check back next month for more Coffee & Questions. In case you missed our previous interview with Dr. Phil Harling, click here.