Minimal Computing

Every sector publishes information on websites and online portals to inform their particular audience about problems they may encounter and present pathways to potential solutions. For instance, in the medical/health sector there are sites like WebMD and Mayo Clinic, and in the legal/justice sector there are sites like LawHelpNY and Crime Victims Legal Help. These sites speak to a range of individuals, from advocates who use it to help their clients to people in need who have vastly different reading levels and internet access. This brings me to the article, Introduction: The Questions of Minimal Computing where we’re warned that “defining minimal computing is as quixotic a task as defining digital humanities itself,” but can generally be considered to mean “a mode of thinking about digital humanities praxis that resists the idea that “innovation” is defined by newness, scale, or scope,” in response to, or consideration of, constraints such as the “lack of access to hardware or software, network capacity, technical education, or even a reliable power grid.” 

I’m considering the possibility of exploring this topic more broadly for my final paper, but will focus my notes for this post on minimal computing as it relates to digital humanities projects. First, the authors recommend that considering the constraints when developing a digital humanities project we should ask 4 constituent questions:  1) “what do we need?”; 2) “what do we have”; 3) “what must we prioritize?”; and 4) “what are we willing to give up?” As someone who has project-managed product development in the nonprofit sector over the past few years, this is a good framework for projects beyond the confines of digital humanities projects. A north star which the author’s point to and which resonates is “sometimes — perhaps often — when we pause to consider what we actually need to complete a project, the answer isn’t access to the latest and greatest but the tried and true.”

To implement minimal computing in digital humanities projects, we must sit with the following tensions: the impulse towards larger, faster, always-on forms of computing, the consideration of the range of computer literacy of the intended audience, and the tension between choice and necessity driven by the dearth of funding and resources.