Z points out that there’s one good line in what we both consider a disappointing article, and annoyingly so given the promise of its title, “The Computer Does Not Dictate the Uses to Which it is Put,” by George Grant. The good line asks us to imagine someone having said a hundred years ago: “the car does not dictate the uses to which it is put.” Hah! This is smart. Because the car, like the computer, promises not to dictate and then does. The car promises freedom and provides slavery.*
Okay that’s an overstatement. But anyone reading this blog knows I’m given to these. I defend myself by quoting Jacques Derrida, who, in Monolingualism of the Other, says that everything he’s ever said has been hyperbole, and that he’s never told a lie.
So what about cars? I still remember learning in Grade 7 History (a class where, to get an A, all you had to do was liberally drop the phrase “they adapted to their environment”) that cars changed the world by liberating people from their small towns, thus fostering class mobility and moral license in ways that were eventually revolutionary.
Not a note of doubt crept in: nobody asked about the spiritual health of suburban living, or whether the car didn’t enshrine as much stratification as it eroded (them blacks don’t need to live near us; they can drive to their own neighbourhood). Certainly nobody mentioned that there’s something sickeningly grotesque about covering the world with asphalt.
I started asking questions later. But it wasn’t until Eila was around two that I realized, viscerally, how much the car binds and restricts us. For the car is the reason we don’t shove our two-year olds out the front door and say “go play.” It’s as simple as that. It’s not fear of abduction, though we claim it is. It’s the car. And if freedom is lost between the ages of two and seven, a world of freedom is lost.
*A little like Grant promises a profound critique of technology and provides tedium.