from point A to B – Schivelbusch Provocation

A recent internet phenomenon features a photo in which of a clumsy steam locomotive lugging a slim streamlining modern bullet train out of a typhoon affected station in southern China where the entire region lost its electricity power due to the natural catastrophe. In a country where most of its steam powered engines retired to museums, this photo caused quite a nostalgia among various generations, majority of whom interestingly chose to overlook the practical function of that locomotive. Though perhaps no longer culturally dominating, an old technology or organic power rarely just extinct globally, it either becomes less noticeable into the infrastructure, or transit into a role that is less function prominent but experience based. Schivelbusch discussed the psychological attitude we had transitioned through towards traveling in trains, which was relatively new at that time, I wonder whether that makes it a binary transition towards the roles of “out-dated” machines as well?

“As the new technology terminated the original relationship between the pre-industrial traveler and his vehicle and its journey, the old technology was seen, nostalgically, as having more ‘soul’.” This quote is also appropriate when applying to traveling by trains and airplanes. Now that the time it takes to cover the same amount of geographic ground is further drastically reduced by engines that are even more powerful, the lengthy, rhythmic railroad seem more expressive all of a sudden. One solution is “transferring the economically obsolete old technologies to a new realm, that of leisure and sports”. As the modern vision of traditional traveling, railroad companies now offer from sight-seeing routes, of which destination is no longer a priority, to Writer in Residency program during which writers are invited to enjoy the inspirational landscape while being productive in an enclosed, distraction-free environment.

One intriguing perspective the book touched upon but did not elaborate is the impact on locality and the formation of globalization from industrialized transportation. The enclosed space and the certain amount of time of limited mobility (not to mention the commodity culture within that space and time) forms its own unique cultural environment. Shortened perceptual distance resulted from decreased time spent traveling from point A to B, of which another byproduct is the instant access to a different cultural “world” from that of connectivity of industrialized traveling, especially now in the form of air travel.

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One thought on “from point A to B – Schivelbusch Provocation

  1. Interesting. There is, as you say, a sense of nostalgia for technology “as it was back then.” For me, the fascinating aspect of this week’s readings is how our sense of what “space” and “time” are can be easily trained through the introduction of new technologies to the point that that the old-fashioned technologies feel “natural.”

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