Railroad Space and Railroad Time

Railroad Space and Railroad Time


In reading this article I could not help but think of the changes in perception of space and time experienced by early rail travelers serving as an analogy to what we experience today with the ever-increasing speeds of actual travel, and also our virtual travel through television and the Internet, and cell phones.  Satellite transmissions obliterate distance to the nth degree giving us a very real sense of what it is to be in a remote location at a given instant.  Cell phones obliterate the distance between our networks of human relations.  It used to be that we were 6 degrees of separation from any other human.  I think cell phones knocked off a few of those degrees. 


We are now able to gather experience / information of remote places and people in a matter of seconds.  How do we assimilate this information?  How does it shape us?  How do we shape it?  How do cultures adapt to the intrusion probing communications sentinels?  How do we adapt to the sense of a global village?  Are me more civil towards others the more we learn and communicate with them?


I enjoy watching Star Teck and Stargate Atlantis.  With Star Treck we imagine traveling at “Warp” speed to distant star systems in a matter of hours, thus enabling us to reach previously unreachable species of life.  When we arrive in alien space we can transport our disassembled and then reassembled molecules to the planet surface. With Stargate Atlantis we can simply dial the location of another world and simply walk through a wormhole that transports us to the off world location in a matter of seconds.  Talking about obliterating distance!  I guess some in our ranks just can’t wait to do this.  So what is the effect on our consciousness as we both obliterate distance and expand our reach to distant places?  Do we get a better appreciation of the wholeness or integral nature or universal web of life thus furthering or evolution to becoming higher and perhaps transcendent beings?


Another critical question is how do we adapt to the speed of information and technological innovation that accompanies it?  Computers are busily crunching billions or even trillions of data bytes per second, and coming up with solutions to problems that most of us don’t even know we have.  What happens when you are confronted constantly with information can have relevance to your life, and that some dedicated decipherers are acting upon to change your environment, but you cannot possibly keep up with it all?  I wonder the wisdom of acquiring advanced technology and allowing it to change our societies before we are able to help our citizens adapt to the new technologies.  The cart of technological growth is ahead of the horse of societal wellbeing and spiritual growth.  Can we control and properly place exponential growth of technology for the benefit of all human kind?  The stakes are higher than just a dizzying feeling of watching objects fly by a train coach.  


3 Responses to “Railroad Space and Railroad Time”

  1. Mitch Says:

    You’re right. Schivelbusch’s discussion of how the railroad simultaneously expanded and contracted space parallels how wireless communications eliminate distances between us, and those with whom we choose to communicate, but increases the distance/disconnection between us and the people who are physically near us. I wonder if/how this effect plays out differently for people living in remote areas, people living in densely populated cities, suburbanites, shut-ins, etc.

    I also think that you are right about putting the cart before the horse. However, I think we often (always?) have done so, and the horse has generally caught up and gotten back in front. It seems that in our times the rapidity with which new technologies replace the “old” is so much greater than in the past that this process of re-achieving some kind of equilibrium may be delayed or disrupted altogether. The speed and amount of information transfer is so great that we have to give up more and more control over the processes. Will the processes get out of hand? This leads us back to our discussion of DADoES and Blade Runner from week one.

  2. ungooglable Says:

    I’m not too worried about the cart or horse (an interesting skeumorph, that metaphor), because the fears are so parallel to all those that have come before, and the new generations have always managed to extract new standards for “societal wellbeing” from whatever technology. The stakes may, indeed, be higher than “just a dizzying feeling of watching objects fly by a train coach” – but they seemed higher for the people on train coaches, too, according to Schivelbusch. The idea that it’s “just a dizzying feeling” is itself a sign (and result) of our new acculturation to trains.

    Similarly, the anxiety in Mitch’s comment that “the processes [might] get out of hand” seems to echo the anxiety I read in Marx’s observation that industrial machines produce other industrial machines, and that “the automaton […] as capital” personified will want to eliminate or repress man.

    Part of what I take away from DADoES (and from Asimov’s Robot Trilogy) is that even if machine processes become intelligent and self-governing, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Unless we are foolish enough to wage war on them.

  3. As We May Think « Mitch’s World Says:

    […] aside: Roland talked about how technology often moves humans beyond where we would naturally go next and requires […]

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