As the semester and all of its work have been building up, life has slowly started breaking down… At least in a very material kind of way. Recently it took the form of getting into a car accident on the way back to campus, and then culminated in my (not surprisingly) dropping my phone and (perhaps finally) shattering the screen. Looking back at the crushed metal, unanticipated meetings, and sparkling shards of glass, I couldn’t help but feel a combination of shock, relief, curiosity, and gratefulness. A bit of a weird mix of emotions, huh?
I hadn’t thought much about cars or transportation infrastructure until studying Dubai in my geo-perspectives class last semester. Car culture permeates the society and functions as a status symbol and point of pride. It’s not uncommon to see Porsches, BMWs, and Lamborghinis driving along the ultra-smooth bridges, with the sleek metro zipping through the skyline fifty feet above them. In Tampa, it’s a rather different story. If you don’t have your own car, it can be a challenge to get around efficiently. Perhaps it’s partially because of that, that we tend to rely upon ourselves and become rather more individualistic in our mentality towards life. Yet, the thing about driving (as my parents have adamantly told me since I first got behind the wheel) is: you can be the most amazing driver in the world, but your safety is still contingent upon everyone else.
Stacy Alaimo speaks of these same connections in her writings on toxins and the permeability of the ecological body. Even though we encase ourselves in carriages of metal, separating ourselves from the rest of the passerby and only taking note when they are remarkably slow or fast or disorderly or flashy, we aren’t truly immune from what’s on the outside. Just as the farmworkers fell ill from the surrounding pesticides, neither were we safe from the alcohol in another driver’s bloodstream (Alaimo 90).
There was something my mom said after the accident that stood out to me – “Maybe the scariest thing is the unexpectedness… Your space is suddenly invaded and you can’t do anything about it.” It wasn’t just the car that was hit, it was us as well. The car became an extension of us and we, in turn, were hybrids of machine and organism (Haraway 291). I felt this connection between myself and machine to an even greater degree when I dropped my phone. I was walking with a friend, pointing out the Patel Center and talking with my hands (note to self: not the smartest thing to do when holding your phone), when it met its demise in a violent encounter with the pavement.
That phone held a lot of bits and pieces of my life: notes I’d jot down, quotes I didn’t want to forget, recipes I intended to make, songs I’d listen to for hours, phone numbers of best friends, the adventures of past travels captured in photos and films… But apart from that, that phone carried memories with it. First, the memory of my parents surprising me with it for Christmas during my senior year. Then, of using it to document the last semester of high school and beginning of college. Then, of it being my lifeline as I struggled to find my way around Florence during the first week. And perhaps the most amazing part, of it being my connection to friends and family when were halfway around the world from one another.
Haraway writes, “the machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment” and I certainly felt that I had said goodbye to a past version of myself with the destruction of that little aluminum, lithium, glass device (Haraway 315). For years it had been my eyes, taking snapshots of the world I’d be able to show others; my language, as I communicated through texts and Instagram posts and FaceTime calls; and my guide for all sorts of wanderings, whether journeys through physical realms or through the depths of the mind.
Reflecting upon both experiences, it hit me just how interdependent we are upon the others that surround us – whether that be people, buildings, streets, nature, or technologies – to the point that it can, in the blink of an eye, be a matter of life and death. As Nancy Tuana wrote in her analysis of hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans, it “is the intersection between things and people, between feats of engineering and social structures, between experiences and bodies” that we need to seek knowledge of (Tuana 189). It is in these meeting points that we not only discover things about ourselves we were ignorant of before, but new meanings and relationships amongst entities emerge. And a lot of times, new significance and beauty can be born out of the brokenness as well.
Alaimo, Stacy. Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 2010. Print.
Haraway, Donna. A Cyborg Manifesto. 1985. Print.
Tuana, Nancy. “Viscous Porosity: Witnessing Katrina.” Academia.edu. Web. <http://www.academia.edu/12103511/Viscous_Porosity_Witnessing_Katrina>.