iPhone Life magazine

The iPhone in the Humanities and Arts

What is required is not a lot of words, but effectual ones.
Seneca (4BC – 65AD)





Throughout the ages, human beings have used a variety of tools and techniques to communicate and express their ideas about the human condition, and the most effective communication has always had its roots in simplicity. Enter the iPhone, an incredibly simple and easy-to-use device that is improving our lives in a variety of ways, including our access to the arts and humanities.



Language Studies

Human JapaneseA variety of language translators and phrase books are available on the App Store, but Human JapaneseHuman Japanese ($9.99) offers a more thorough study of the language. It patiently walks the learner through the vocabulary, provides language exercises, and has an essential introduction to Japanese language and culture.

Human Japanese is a powerful language study program with a beautiful interface.

Human Japanese not only has a beautiful interface, it’s a powerful language study program—as powerful as more expensive and less mobile desktop/laptop solutions. It shows how the iPhone is becoming more than a communication device—it’s evolving into a very capable and intelligent machine. Finally, it’s very handy to have a program like Human Japanese on your iPhone—it makes it easy to take advantage of spare moments and down time during the day to learn the language.



Human Japanese

Plato, Locke, and Nietzsche

Philosophy - The Essential CollectionLanguage study is not the only area where the iPhone is likely having an influence on the humanities. Apps like Philosophy – The Essential Collection ($1.99) introduce the student or amateur to the thinking of great philosophers, from John Locke to my current favorite and somewhat confounding writer, Friedrich Nietzsche. I see his “the will to power” as an important concept to help us through these troubled economic times. The Essential Collection comes bundled with the iFlow reader, which works well enough. I think it would be even better if it had text-to-speech capability.







Philosophy – The Essential Collection

Creating and sharing art

BrushesArtCameraExcellent examples of what the iPhone is capable of are found in the impressionistic works of artist Jorge Colombo. He created his New York City-inspired cityscapes (guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2009/mar/16/art-iphone-shortcuts) using his iPhone and an app called Brushes ($4.99). This app provides you with a set of digital painting tools and requires some skill to use effectively. Fortunately, apps like ArtCamera ($0.99) make it easier to create this type of digital painting based on a photo you’ve taken or an image you’ve imported. ArtCamera lets you apply one of 33 different filters to a photo, allowing you to mimic the style of great masters, turn color photos into black & white, create old-style photos, and more. A free “LITE” version of the program offers 14 filters and more limited choices for size formatting of the final work.

What makes these apps so important in the arts is their ability to let you pause wherever you are, experience the moment for what it is, and then create an image that captures that feeling.

ArtCamera Image 2

Brushes (top-left) and ArtCamera (left & top right) let you create art on your iPhone or iPod touch.

I’m also mixing art, language, and a lived philosophy with iWallflower, a free app that lets you share your drawings, doodles, etc. with iPhone users around the world. After it’s installed, launch the app and drawings from iPhone users around the world start scrolling past you.

iWallFlower Image 1

 Tap on the crayon icon at the bottom of the screen to create and submit your own art. Sometimes the drawings you see are silly, but others are quite profound. The overall experience is of a collaborative, living art, exemplifying the American philosopher John Dewey’s belief that every person is capable of “living an artful life” of social interactions.

Digital scholarship and the future of the humanities

In its 2006 report “Our Cultural Commonwealth,” the American Council of Learned Societies found that “digital scholarship is the inevitable future of the humanities and social sciences, and digital literacy is a matter of national competitiveness and a mission that needs to be embraced.”


 The iPhone is certainly a part of that inevitable future. Its success is based not only on its simplicity of form and function, but its integration with human behavior.

All in all, it’s a very effectual tool for communicating and expressing our ideas.

iWallflower (left/right) lets you create simple art and share it with the world.










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