The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

How We Got from There to Here

Lately, I've been thinking of media ecology in terms of transportation and communication. To a degree, these two things can be seen as interchangeable. After all communication is transporting words and ideas from one place to another. The highways for ideas are manifold—we call them "media."

Conversely, transportation is the communication of objects from one place to another—cars, people, goods, products. In this way of thinking, those physical objects are the messages communicated along roads and highways. Yes, you are the message of the road. Do you see it? Raymond Unwin, an early 20th-century urban designer, saw this. He recognized that a road serves "as a means of communication from one place to another."

Before electric technology (i.e., the telegraph), communication and transportation were much more closely tied together. They were even identical to some degree, or at least children of the same mother. Before the 1840s, letters et al. were transported by the same roads that people traveled. People and information traveled along the same routes. The Postal Service is a vestige of this long-lost time. Telephone lines running alongside roadways are more recent echoes too.

In the past 200 years, electric technology has deepened the division in our minds between communication and transportation. So much so that we seem them as completely distinct from one another, almost without similarity. The fact that this connection has been severed is the evidence of the way technology changes the way we think.

Communication and transportation didn't just change the way we think about space though. They also changed how we relate to space. We began to use space in new ways.

For example, it was not steel that created the skyscraper. It was the elevator and the telephone. Until Otis's "safety elevator," the height of buildings was limited by people's capacity for stairs, usually 4-6 stories. Witold Rybczynksi points this out, but is quick to add that the telephone was equally important: "The height of commercial buildings was also limited by the need for easy communication" (City Life, 118).

Telephones and elevators. Communication and transportation show up again. Their developments create the environment that makes skyscrapers possible.

Your mom taught you well