In recent years, “minimal computing” has emerged as an approach to digital humanities scholarship that favors simplicity, sustainability, and accessibility. Minimal computing encourages asking key questions like “What do we need?” and “What can we do with what we have?” rather than getting caught up in the latest trends or tools.
At its core, minimal computing is about using only the digital methods and tools that are necessary and sufficient for a project, given its context and constraints. It resists the constant pressure for innovation defined by scale and scope, which can deter many from digital scholarship. Minimal computing recognizes that smaller, simpler, and older technologies may actually enable more equitable and ethical knowledge production.
I enjoy the focus by Erik Radio on minimal design, minimal maintenance, minimal obsolescence, and maximum justice. To make this a reality, minimal computing could include:
- Focus on available local assets and resources, not deficits. Leverage what you and your community already have access to.
- Prioritize people over platforms. Choose technology based on serving your collaborators and audience.
- Seek simplicity and sufficiency. Use the least complex tools that will meet your needs.
- Reduce reliance on corporate systems and energy-intensive infrastructure. Avoid vendor lock-in.
- Demystify technology through transparency. Make choices and processes legible.
- Share control over the production of knowledge. Seek community-driven solutions.
Minimal computing emerged in contexts with significant constraints, but its ethos can benefit digital work anywhere. It helps ensure scholarship is inclusive, accessible, sustainable, and focused on content over technical bells and whistles.
What does minimal computing look like in practice? Some examples:
- Using lightweight markup languages, like Markdown, rather than complex XML
- Building static websites with Jekyll rather than databases and servers
- Producing data sets as CSVs rather than elaborate database schemas
- Using Raspberry Pi devices for low-cost, low-energy projects
- Creating iterative, transparent documentation alongside digital work
The goal of minimal computing is not dogmatic minimalism but rather empowering scholars to make intentional choices about technology informed by ethics and justice. Its flexible principles can guide digital work across contexts and surface key considerations for collaborative, equitable digital scholarship.
What are your thoughts on minimal computing? How might its ethos shape more responsible, sustainable digital humanities? Share your perspectives in the comments!