It’s Not About the Tools

I’m no technological determinist, but neither am I a Luddite. I see technology as a tool rather than an end in itself. But tools must be considered in context—a hammer and a chisel provide a day laborer an expeditious means of breaking up concrete, while in the hands of Michelangelo they become instruments of creative expression. Creating isn’t about the tools; the magic is in the way you wield them.

There is an ongoing debate within the nascent digital humanities community that questions whether “digital literacy” (i.e. proficiency with programming and coding) is a fundamental requirement for membership in the club. It’s a sort of right brain vs. left brain or art vs. science argument.

One camp believes this is a given. Its proponents migrated to the humanities from a computer science background and are therefore predisposed to think computers (and their programs) are the essential core element of any DH project. For them, you can’t be a serious digital humanist if you don’t code.

The other side of this tug o’ war comprises humanities scholars who are learning how to utilize computers to expand their creative horizons; they are humanists first and geeks-in-training second. They tend to view the computer as a tool, a means to an end, and feel that the ability to engage with those more at home with building digital tools is crucial to the collaborative nature of the enterprise.

Of course, there is also a growing cadre of folks who are quite comfortably ensconced in the space between. So in a way, it’s really just a matter of perspective—yin and yang.

The iconoclastic physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman noted in his quirky memoir, “Then there were artists who had absolutely no idea about the real world. They … would say things like ‘I want to make a picture in three dimensions where the figure is suspended in space and it glows and flickers.’ They made up the world they wanted, and had no idea what was reasonable or unreasonable to make.”

Feynman’s dry wit makes it difficult to discern when he’s being sarcastic, but in any event, it is interesting to note that about the time he was working on the atomic bomb, a French colleague, Denis Gabor, was developing the holograph. Apparently, Pablo Picasso was onto something when he pronounced, “Everything you can imagine is real.”

Another well-known theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate named Albert Einstein once quipped, “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Nothing, it would seem, is impossible…

As any artisan—or digital humanist—will tell you, good tools are not only essential to producing good art, they are a joy to work with. Hence, a certain level of knowledge of one’s tools is a very important element of the creative process. But without that other key ingredient, imagination, technology is little more than a sophisticated means of breaking up concrete.

the DW-P

Aden Nichols is an independent editor and writer. He is available for print and digital projects: books (academic, narrative/creative nonfiction, memoir, speculative/alternate history, etc.), websites/social media, and business communications. Visit his website ( or email him at:

(Illustration: Patty Cooper/Pinterest)

Your thoughts?