Sunday, June 13, 2010

Blocking all lanes

I've been part of a reading group for a few weeks. Its not a physical group, but rather one from the internet over at mammoth blog (here). The book, The Infrastructural City, contains a series of short, and pictorial essays about L.A. The latest chapter is about traffic. The author makes an interesting point about the history of traffic.

"Tracing the history of the word, traffic originally referred to the movement of commodities. Only in the last two centuries did it explicititly take on vehicles and people. In terms of the modern defnition, we are traffic (which reminds us that it was once quite acceptable for one to be a "computer" or a "typewriter.") If course we don't talk that way: we say that we are "in traffic," but we never admit to being traffic.

...The automobile, the capitalist vehicle par excellence, promises freedom while the often-fustrating experience of driving leaves us feeling quite out of control. We hold on to the idea that although we might be stuck now, there is a way out. But what if our agency were underpinned by an organizing, computational mechnanism? We stop. We go. WE turn. We yield. What if these were not simply rules to follow (code as law), but instructions to follow (code as program), an instruction that gives a green light."

The first paragraph points to the commodity aspect of travel. The car is "the capitalist vehicle par excellence" not only for its high price in gas, maintenance, highway cost, initial sale, but also in that it is a moving commodity from one point to another. Driving is movement from and to different points of consumption. This fact is schellacked over not only by the idea of freedom, pointed out by the second paragraph, but by people's lack of desire to be reified. This latter point is seen in the idea that we are stuck in traffic and never we are traffic. Reification is the process by which human relations are turned into things. The traffic jam is a thing, a social process, that happense to others that we are not a part of. By keeping ourselves separate we alleviate the burden of culpability yet the world works according to the laws of constant reproduction. Here I'm reminded of Fredy Perlman's "The Reproduction of Everyday Life (here)."

Are we responsible for traffic jams or is it a process of the machine? Tools are not neutral and carry with them their own way of interacting with the world...

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