Monday, 12 December 2011

Memories of Car and Phone, prosthetics of the cyborg citizen (Part II)

Kieran Tranter

This post continues Dr Kieran Tranter's series on 'Memories of Car and Phone', the first instalment of which can be accessed here.

The demographics of the car, of the makes and models of drivers and vehicles, over the past 15-20 years in the West make an interesting study. There are more cars per head of population, women are now almost equal owners of the Western fleet, and by percentage there are less "male hero" and "man of the family" vehicles than in the past. The "average" Western car can probably be described as a Toyota Corolla, front wheel drive, 4 cylinders, practical, functional, user-friendly, economical, safe, and it is owned and driven by men and women alike. It will be owned/leased for three years and then traded in for a newer…Toyota Corolla. Its bonnet will probably never be lifted by the owner. In short it is the internal combustion engine version of an iPhone on a 24 month contract. I think this challenge to the traditional automobility of combustion masculinity is interesting.

Foremost, it represents a souring of the mythos of the car in the West. The symbolism of freedom mass-produced in chrome and steel had to reach the end of road when the common experience was gridlock and repetitious commutes. Combustion masculinity’s linking of car to hetero-normative sex was also doomed to a cul-de-sac when it became increasingly clear that burnouts in a “fully sick” car only appealed to other young men. The green movement’s chipping away at the car’s fender slowly rendered the car and car usage problematic, and the roadside memorials have come to haunt our travelling dreams. The car has made a life that is not sustainable in environmental and social terms, and the changes in car demographics mark an interesting evolution in automobility away from the hydrocarbon and testosterone fuelled combustion masculinity to a less identity focused use of cars. As I anticipate my plug-in electric car recharged by a photovoltaic array on the carport roof, this is to the good, even if it will be the car equivalent of the mobile phone, used, abused, and then replaced with same.

But I worry about the types of memories that we’ll take from this future. Sure there might be thousands upon thousands of images of our life and loved ones stored in our portion of the cloud accessible at will through whatever access device is de jure, and available on a 24 month contract, but will we have memories? The car’s physicality, its imposing on life, makes memories. The sunlight machines might access images of the past, but they do not seem to be mnemonic aids in themselves.

What I am concerned about is life. Martin Heidegger’s account of human living was as an entity in time and aware of time; an entity whose memory of past grounds certainty of future. Time passed,and memory was the storehouse, and safeguard, of that life that was. Through memory future becomes possible. Pre-modern Western time could be seen as different. The life of the seasonal cycles and ecclesiastical calendar was a life of repetition, of the same over and over again. Modernity was ultimately a revolution in time; the past became history that could be known, remembered, studied; and from this, the possibility of future, a future different to the past, could be aspired towards.

While Heidegger was famously concerned about the impact of modern technology on human experience, the car has been a memory aid for the cyborg citizens of the West for probably over half a century. With the fading of the car to white(good), to another sunshine machine, the hard materiality of the fabric of memory is potentially reduced. An important way that life has been marked and remembered in the modern West declines. The endless cycle of another featureless, while feature-full consumer good, almost returns us to pre-modern time of endless present. It raises the possibility that our future memory of past will be of a past as same giving rise to an anticipation of a future that is same. In the sunshine our chronological horizons collapse.

So possibly we need the car to be human. But perhaps, as I get ready to ride my bike home, what is also possible is that out of the near limitless data of our contemporary lives we learn to piece some solidity from the zeros and ones. Maybe without the imposed cultural meanings of our car prosthetic, there is a possibility to freely create more complex and empowered life narratives, through the sunshine, from the cloud.

1 comment:

  1. I've ever seen, you can include some more ideas in the same theme. I'm still waiting for some interesting thoughts from your side in the next post. One thing I just want to say is that your blog is so perfect!