arduino heuretics

As those of you who are involved in the maker end of the digital humanities or digital rhetoric know, Arduino combines a relatively simple microcontroller, open source software, and other electronics to create a platform for developing a range of devices. I seem to recall encountering Arduino-based projects at CCCC several years ago. In other words, folks have been playing around with this stuff in our discipline for a few years. (Arduino itself has been around for about a decade.) My own exigency for writing this post is that I purchased a starter kit last week, partly for my own curiosity and partly for my kids growing interest in engineering and computer science. In short, it looks like a fun way to spend part of the summer.

David Gruber writes about Arduino in his chapter in Rhetoric and the Digital Humanities where he observes “digital tools can contribute to a practice-centered, activity-based digital humanities in the rhetoric of science, one that moves scholars away from a logic of representation and toward the logic informing ‘New Materialism’ or the rejection of metaphysics in favor of ontologies made and remade from material processes, practices, and organizations, human and nonhuman, visible and invisible, turning together all the time” (296-7). In particular, he describes a project at North Carolina State which employed an Arduino device attached to a chair that would send messages to Twitter based upon the sensor’s registering of movement in the chair. Where Gruber prefers the term “New Materialism,” I prefer realism: realist philosophy, realist ontology, and realist rhetoric. I think we may mean the same thing. For me the term materialism is harder to redeem, harder to extricate from the “logic of representation” he references, which has discussed materialism and materiality for decades while eschewing the word realism. I would suggest that the logic informing realism or new materialism, the logic juxtaposed to representation, is heuretics, the logic of invention. As I am putting the finishing touches on my book, these are the pieces I’m putting together: Ulmer’s heuretics, Bogost’s carpentry, Latour’s instauration, and DeLanda’s know-how.

As I started to learn more about Arduino, I discovered the split that has occurred in the community/company. It is a reminder of the economic processes behind any technology. Perhaps by serendipity, I have also been involved in a few recent conversations about the environmental impact of these devices (e.g. the rare earth minerals) and the economic-political impact of those (e.g. the issue of cobalt as a conflict mineral). These are all serious issues to consider, ones that are part of a critical awareness of technology that critics of DH of say get overlooked. Of course, sometimes it seems this argument is made as if our legacy veneration of print culture has not been built upon a willful ignorance of slavery, labor exploitation, political strong-arming, environmental destruction, and capitalist avarice that made it possible from cotton production to star chambers to lumber mills. Somehow though no one suggests that we should stop reading or writing in print. That’s not an argument for turning a blind eye now but only to point out that the problems, in principle, are not new. Technologies are part of the world, and the world has problems. While the world’s problems can hardly be construed as good news, they are sites for invention and agency. As Ulmer says at one point of his EmerAgency, “Problems B Us.”

I’m expecting I’ll post a few more times about Arduino this summer as I mess around with it. Given that I’m just starting to poke around, I really don’t have any practical insights yet. It’s always a little challenging to take on a new area beyond one’s realm of expertise. We live in a world where there’s so much hyper-specialization that it’s hard to justify moving into an area where you know you’ll almost certainly never rival the expertise of those who really know what they’re doing. This is a kind of general challenge in the digital humanities and rhetoric, where you might realize that the STEM folks or the art folks will always outpace you, where we seem squeezed out of the market of making. Perhaps that’s why we’re so insistent on the logic of representation, as Gruber terms it. Articulating our ventures into this area as play, while objectionable to many, is one way around this. For me, the window of saying this is fun and something I do with my kids, as a hobby, is part of what makes it doable, part of the way that I can extricate myself from the disciplinary pressures to remain textual. I’ll let you know how it goes.#plaa{display:none;visibility:hidden;}

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