How are the humanities changing to meet the challenges of the digital age, and why should we care? These were among the questions asked and explored at November’s Being Human festival. In this first post in a short series, we will be revisiting some of the themes investigated during the festival which involved dozens of leading academics, artists, scientists, writers, poets and others across the UK, spending a week celebrating the humanities and exploring the varied subjects that inspire and enrich our everyday lives.

Being Human in a digital age – too much information?

What does it mean to be a ‘digital human’? Is this what we are now and what does it mean to live in an age of ‘data overload’ brought on by the digital? How does this impact on the human consciousness? These questions were examined on 15 November through a variety of events under the title Too much Information.

At 2pm a panel of experts examined what methods from the digital humanities could offer researchers in the future.

On the same day Josh Cowls, Professor Eric T. Meyer and Professor Ralph Schroeder examined the question of Who does the web think you are? This was the result.

In the evening Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Professor of Artificial Intelligence led another panel of experts to discuss Openness, secrets and lies in the digital world. Today, we live in a world in which information is ever more readily available, where the traces that we leave are indelible, and in which secrets are increasingly hard to keep. How are we adapting to this new idea of a ‘shared humanity’? And how do the humanities need to change to meet these new challenges?

Many of these talks in this day of events looked at the challenges that the digital age place on us as humans, but the many benefits that the digital have brought us was certainly not ignored.

In another talk, Fiona Courage and Jessice Scantlebury (University of Sussex) explained how the Mass Observation Project (MOP) helps to illustrate differing ideas of ‘happiness’ across the UK. For more than 75 years, MOP has been gathering information about the everyday lives of ordinary people. The result is a substantial data archive, which is used by scholars and students to support learning and research in the humanities.

The Being Human festival ran from 15 to 23 November 2014, connecting cutting-edge research in the humanities to issues shaping our everyday lives.