Gardner Campbell on “Computing as Poetry”

This post has been a while in the making (recent outtages notwithstanding) so you may already have followed Brian’s exhortations and viewed the video of this talk. But if not, do so. I promise you, it is worth it.

I “met” Gardner online through Brian and for a few years followed his writings and explorations in teaching through his blog. Oddly (for it seems a bit odd to me) I feel like we started to get to know each other a little bit better in twitter, and indeed Gardner’s open letter to me when I left twitter for a few months played no small part in bringing me back. And as with so many people I’ve been fortunate to connect with online, I hoped we could meet in person. When I found out he was coming to do a talk at UBC in March, I knew I had to make the trek.

I was not disappointed. Gardner’s talk literally transported me back to my own origins with computing and the web, fresh from a Graduate degree in Critical and Cultural Theory, and helped me remember why I chose to do what I do. Using poetry as a way to understand computing actually goes past my original understanding of computers as “symbolic shifting devices.” As I think Gardner persuasively argues, computing/poetry goes beyond simply mapping one thing to another, that the very act of juxtaposing which they enable/use so well helps bring to light “mappingness,” awareness of the possibility of creating new meaning and understanding through juxtaposing disparate things/words/ideas.

But even if “computing as poetry” doesn’t resonate for you, I think what is even more significant is that Gardner is asking you to choose the metaphor you use to understand computing, the metaphor you are choosing to understand how you are using computing in learning (because metaphors you use, yes you do). I do not hear him arguing that computing must be understood as poetry, but instead, that using poetry as a metaphor for computing can propel us to higher and better uses of computers, especially as regards their uses in learning.

This anti-determinism really resonates with me – it is not that using “computational thinking” or other metaphors to describe computing is “wrong,” but do they result in us then building/adopting/modifying/using computers and technology in the ways that we want? The ways we talk about and conceptualize what we are doing have a profound effect on what we then do, and I see Gardner’s talk as a clarion call to all of us in the profession to become conscious of the metaphors we are using to think about computing and how these effect the results, and to choose ones which describe the highest conception of what could be. For as Gardner had me quote from Robert Frost during the talk:

Every single poem written regular is a symbol small or great of the way the will has to pitch into commitments deeper and deeper to a rounded conclusion and then be judged for whether any original intention it had has been strongly spent or weakly lost; be it in art, politics, school, church, business, love, or marriage—in a piece of work or in a career. Strongly spent is synonymous with kept.

But don’t rely on my interpretation (all misinterpretations herein are obviously my own) – go listen for yourself, and hopefully be transformed. I know for me, it was well worth the effort, that it is one of those events that I will keep coming back to, going over, savouring and turning around in my head to tease out ever more flavour. – SWL

4 thoughts on “Gardner Campbell on “Computing as Poetry””

  1. You know how there are musicians or writers or artists who are are at once sympathetic and so damn good that you feel a deep connection to them and are inspired by them but at the same time they make you want to drop your instrument, pen, or paint brush?

    That’s how Gardner is for me and my work. This talk was incredibly inspiring, but I’m not sure there’s any way I can get from “here” to “there.”

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