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What are the Humanities?

Since this is a Humanities course, we should begin by understanding what the Humanities are. Humanities courses generally include arts, literature, philosophy, languages, and similar courses. What these all have in common is their focus on human expression and experience. According to the Ohio Humanities Council:

The humanities are the stories, the ideas, and the words that help us make sense of our lives and our world. The humanities introduce us to people we have never met, places we have never visited, and ideas that may have never crossed our minds. By showing how others have lived and thought about life, the humanities help us decide what is important in our own lives and what we can do to make them better. By connecting us with other people, they point the way to answers about what is right or wrong, or what is true to our heritage and our history. The humanities help us address the challenges we face together in our families, our communities, and as a nation. (Ohio Humanities Council, 2014)

One way of understanding the humanities is that they are various attempts to explore the question: What does it mean to be human?

What do the Humanities have to do with Technology?

Humans have been intrigued by machines, and as we will see throughout this course, humans depend on their machines, sometimes too much. Many science fiction stories, such as in the film I Robot, have explored the possibility of machines taking over and controlling humans. But ultimately, the machines depend on humans. Technology is something we use to make our lives better, and we should not forget that, even when it seems to make life more difficult.

In The Green Hills of Earth, Robert Heinlein wrote a “future history” in which he speculated about what it might be like to be human in the distant future, when humans have moved into outer space. As you read the story, consider how Heinlein’s basic idea of humanity could have been set in any number of historical periods and in any number of places on Earth. Wherever and whenever humans exist, we have heroes, we sing songs, we work hard, and we sometimes have to face difficult choices.

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace. 

Post a paragraph response (about 200–300 words in length) to the following questions:

  • Do you behave and communicate differently online than you do face-to-face? How so? Give specific examples.
  • What does it mean to be “fully human”? In light of your definition, do you think we can be “fully human” while interacting with others in a virtual space? Why or why not? 


Submit a short (200–300 word) paragraph that includes a summary of the results of your checklist that assessed how you are using technology. Include in your summary:

  • What surprised you about your use of technology and the kinds of technology you use?
  • Which, if any, of the technologies have more to do with your professional life than your private life?
  • What does your technology and the way you use it say about you as a person?

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