PostHeaderIcon Humanities Tackle “Tech Knowledge”

TechKnowledgE 4

Photo by Jason Pickleman

The years from 1984-1990 were especially fertile for big cultural ideas in Chicago. I can’t pinpoint what was in the air at the time. But it gave rise to three festivals that have gone on to become vital, civic-boosting traditions. Each is now an eagerly-awaited annual event on the city’s calendar. I’m referring to the Printer’s Row Book Fair (1984), Art Chicago (1985) and the Chicago Humanities Festival (1990).

The first two festivals are celebrated each Spring while CHF, now in its 22nd year, is as much a part of October/November in town as autumn leaves, Halloween and Thanksgiving. For me, Thanksgiving actually arrives on the first weekend of November. I revel in the chance to gobble up the rich stew of stimulating opinions offered by leading speakers from around the nation and globe on an organizing theme.

The theme this year is Tech Knowledge. We all are aware how technology has impacted our daily lives. As Matti Bunzel, the festival’s director, states, “Every week something becomes obsolete. Facebook has replaced face time. Books are dead. Even the World Wide Web is in danger of becoming old hat as mobile applications make technology ever more portable.”

Trying to make sense of it all and its impact on our culture (less than a month after the death of tech hero, Steve Jobs) is a theme that is highly topical and around which Bunzel and his staff have programmed more than 80 events. For me, the Chicago Humanities Festival is a semester of post-graduate education packed into 14 days.

Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim

My contribution to your time management and wallet is to pick a personal Top Ten that I think will prove rewarding.  That’s most rewarding for me. So don’t treat this list as gospel but more of a handy roadmap. I won’t be going to “Technology in Sports” or “Lend me Your (Bionic) Ears” if that helps you see where my bent lies. Deliberately missing are the star events such as Laurie Anderson on November 2 or Stephen Sondheim and Jonathan Franzen on November 6.

Here then is my personal Top Ten list. The program number is in parenthesis to help you in ordering tickets. The list is organized chronologically.

  1. Guns, Germs & Steel—Jared Diamond   Nov. 3 (301)

Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book of that title, highlighted technology’s role in human history and the rise and fall of civilizations. His talk will address our place in history and where technology may be taking us.

2. The Next Level: Gaming, Testing & Education’s Future-Nov. 5 (400)

James Gee is an education innovator who sees video games having a valuable educational purpose: providing an immersive experience where kids navigate technology to acquire knowledge and solve problems in a way appropriate to our digital age.

3. The Breakup 2.0   Nov. 5  (404)

Ilana Gershon, an anthropologist, discusses how new media affect our behavior in our intimate relationships.

4. Grand Pursuit—A Conversation with Sylvia Nasar   Nov. 5 (408)


Sylvia Nasar

My guilty pleasure selection. Nasar is the author of A Beautiful Mind,” the biography of tortured mathematical genius, John Forbes Nash. Her new book examines the making of modern economics.  In light of recent Occupy Wall Street demonstrations aimed at the inequities of economics, which have been mobilized via digital technology, this may not be tangential to the topic at all.

5. Tomorrow’s History      Nov. 5    (411)

New digital technologies have shifted original research to online archives and new tools have created immersive presentations for the classroom. David Staley, head of Ohio State’s Center for Excellence in Teaching, talks about how history will be researched, written and taught in the future.

6. CSI:Picasso                  Nov. 6   (501)

Francesca Casadio is an art detective who has solved many mysteries. She will speak about her latest quest, using cutting-edge technology, to solve the mystery of Picasso’s paint.

7. A Jane Addams for the Digital Age Nov. 6    (510)

That is what Virginia Eubanks has been called. A scholar and political activist, she will reflect on her 10 years organizing for high-tech equity for poor and working class families. Does our electronic playground increase inequality and thwart social justice?

8. New Frontiers in Journalism   Nov. 9   (602)

David Carr

David Carr

New York Times’ media columnist David Carr probes how journalism will be transformed—not only its business model but how the news will be delivered in the future—with two Mother Jones editors.

9. Sherry Turkle: Alone Together   Nov. 11  (605)

Noted MIT psychologist and sociologist Turkle studies the relationship between people and technology. Is our fascination with technology degrading our appreciation of authentic encounters and human relationships?

10.The Book: Past, Present and Future   Nov. 12  (704)

Is the book dead? What happens next for bound volumes?  Anthony Grafton, a leading historian of the book, addresses whether the future holds a utopia of an entire world library at our fingertips or anguish at the loss of this iconic artifact.

That’s my ten. But I see I’ve left out City of the Future, A Personal History (and Future) of the Electric Guitar and Serious Play: Meaningful Video Games. Make plans and allot enough time to attend a range of programs to experience the festival’s full, stimulating flavor and get updated on technology’s ever-increasing impact on all aspects of society.

For non-Chicago readers: Don’t you wish you lived here?

To purchase tickets to the 22nd Chicago Humanities Festival, go to or call their office at 312-494-9509.

Leave a Reply