Kinesis

On rhetoric, motion, and technical projects

So At&T and Carnegie Mellon are collaborating to envision a haptic steering wheel for future vehicles. Supposedly, small vibrational inputs suggest actions on the part of the driver, thus focusing his/her attention. Technically, aren’t all steering wheels haptic? Time will tell whether this is an “everyday” technology or something best saved for a warning system. From this Autoblog article.

So At&T and Carnegie Mellon are collaborating to envision a haptic steering wheel for future vehicles. Supposedly, small vibrational inputs suggest actions on the part of the driver, thus focusing his/her attention. Technically, aren’t all steering wheels haptic? Time will tell whether this is an “everyday” technology or something best saved for a warning system. From this Autoblog article.

Technical Projects

No technological project is doomed from the start any more than any person is confined to a life of failure after she draws her first breath. Such reasoning is tantamount to a different from of technological determinism – one where successful projects succeed because they are better and more advanced. As Latour argues as much about the Aramis project, “You aren’t born feasible or infeasible; you become so.”[i] No project has its life traced out from its conception, but functions within a network of actors that impact its trajectory. However, Latour argues that these biological metaphors are dangerous:

You can’t say that PRTs died because they weren’t viable, any more than you can say that dinosaurs, after surviving for millions of years, died out because they were doomed or ill-conceived. Aramis died—in 1987—and its accusers claim that it was nonviable from the beginning, from 1970. […] No, Aramis is feasible, at least as feasible as dinosaurs, for life is a state of uncertainty and risk, of fragile adaptation to a past and present environment that the future cannot judge.[ii]

Our assumptions about the potential for success should respect that continuous optimism is a necessary condition for the production of any technological project. Such a perspective is not a kind of Pollyanna-like naiveté or a utterly relativist perspective, but an understanding that multiple ontological realities of a project coexist as the project changes. No universal narrative of decline because of in-born defects can override those multiple definitions.



[i] Bruno Latour, Aramis, or the Love of Technology, 122.

[ii] Bruno Latour, Aramis, or the Love of Technology, 35.

Sebastian Thrun’s TED Talk about Google’s Driverless Cars. I’m at the Conference on College Composition and Communication and the Association for Teachers of Technical Writing conference right now, so I’ll save the commentary for later.

Small Revelation

I know this is not an insight that most will appreciate, but it’s one that I think will help guide me through the literature review - something I’ve been having some difficulty conceptualizing (primarily because I’m, trying to traverse several different domains of knowledge: rhetoric, visual rhetoric and new media, technical communication, mobility studies, etc.). I know that my guiding question is:

"How is transportation rhetorical?"

…and by this I mean several things:

1) I want to understand how transportation itself is rhetorical, not just discourse about transportation.

2) Though I write “transportation,” I really mean “mobility technologies.”

3) I’m focusing on the post-car future, because I believe this area carries much of the blame for our current transportation concerns, and because it represents the domain of transportation that speaks most directly to our autonomy and our everyday lives.

4) I’ll need to attend to issues of place/space, the posthuman, and materiality, though only AS necessary - not as core elements of the research.

5) My core focus is about kinesis and techne.