Making sense of the data deluge

Making sense of the data deluge

In a digital world, are we drowning in data? ‘Too Much Information’, one of the activities in the forthcoming Being Human festival of humanities, is set to take a fresh look at what it is to be human in times of extraordinary technological change.

Acting as a launch for this new national festival dedicated to furthering public understanding of the humanities, this event is one of many that explore the impact of new technologies on human life in the 21st century. A headline event in a programme of over 150 activities taking place across the country, ‘Too Much Information’ introduces a theme that connects activities stretching across an innovative programme organised by the University of London’s School of Advanced Study (SAS) in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.

Using a combination of interactive workshops, debates and exhibitions, they will explore the positives and negatives of being human in a digital age. The programme includes events exploring how our experience of reading has changed with the advent of digital access and portability, and an experiment conducted to measure how people experience 16 hours of Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’ during a live performance at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

Throughout the Being Human programme, events are designed to make research accessible and to demonstrate the role of the humanities in the cultural, intellectual, political and social life of the UK. Technology focused events will feature world-leading academics, education practitioners, authors, activists, digital artists and techno-geeks of every description. Top names among the speakers are Sir Nigel Shadbolt, professor of artificial intelligence and co-founder of the Open Data Institute, author and broadcaster Ben Hammersley coiner of the phrase ‘podcasting’, and eminent neuroscientist and Wagner fan Sir Colin Blakemore.

Some of the events, such as Openness, Secrets and Lies, will tap into controversial political questions around the growth of censorship and surveillance. Are we all puppets in a wired world? Others will offer more ‘hands on’ activities including audio-walks, hack-days and even attempts to teach the ‘un-musical’ to make music.

With our reliance on modern technology growing at an alarming rate, and the lives that most of us live online largely public property, these events are timely and relevant.

‘We are currently living through a period of technological change that many would argue is without parallel in human history,’ said Dr Michael Eades, the festival’s curator. ‘Certainly not since the age of the Industrial Revolution have we seen such a dramatic and rapid shift in the way in which humans interact with technology. This is exciting and exhilarating, but also raises serious questions about how we live and experience our shared humanity. Research in the humanities is making a major contribution in helping us come to terms with these shifts, exploring everything from twitter trolls to digital activism. During the Being Human festival we will be presenting events that involve the public in some of the very best of that research’.

The Being Human festival runs for nine days between 15 and 23 November, involving some 60 universities and 120 partner organisations across the UK – from Orkney to Truro, Belfast to Swansea, and Liverpool to Norwich. They will stage more than 150 free-to-attend public events hosted in museums, academic institutions, art galleries, cultural and community centres, pubs, clubs and book shops.

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Notes for editors:

For all enquiries, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8653

1. Being Human: A festival of the humanities 15–23 November 2014.What does it mean to be human? How do we understand ourselves, our relationship to others and our place in nature? For centuries the humanities have addressed these questions. Artists, writers, philosophers, theologians and historians have considered who we are, how we live and what we value most. But are these long-standing questions changing in 2014? We are more connected than ever, yet we spend more time with smart phones and computers than face to face. The world is becoming smaller, yet the digital information we can access and store, even about ourselves, is vast and growing.  Developments in science and technology are moving fast, challenging our understanding of the self and society. What sense can we make of these changes and what challenges do we face? We need the humanities more than ever to help us address these issues and provide the means to question, interpret and explain the human predicament.

2. The festival is held as part of the School of Advanced Study’s 20th anniversary celebrations and draws on the success of the 2013 King’s College Festival of the Humanities. Being Human will be the UK’s first national festival of the humanities. Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, and universities, arts and cultural organisations across the UK, it will demonstrate the value, vitality and relevance of the humanities in 2014. Find out more at or follow the festival on Twitter at @BeingHumanFest.

3. The School of Advanced Study (SAS) at the University of London is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and facilitation of research in the humanities. The School brings together 10 prestigious research institutes to offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. The member institutes of the School are the Institutes of Advanced Legal Studies, Classical Studies, Commonwealth Studies, English Studies, Historical Research, Latin American Studies, Modern Languages Research, Musical Research, Philosophy, and the Warburg Institute. The School also hosts a cross-disciplinary centre, the Human Rights Consortium, dedicated to the facilitation, promotion and dissemination of academic and policy work on human rights. Find out more at or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.

4. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

5. The British Academy is the UK’s national champion of the humanities and social sciences. As a Fellowship of distinguished scholars and researchers from all areas of the humanities and social sciences, it promotes these disciplines and facilitates the exchange of knowledge and ideas. It funds research across the UK and internationally, and seeks to raise understanding of some of the biggest challenges of our time through policy reports, forums, conferences, publications and public events.  For more information, please visit Follow the British Academy on Twitter @britac_news.