Critical, creative and digital writingEcriture critique, créative et numérique

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We rarely think about it, but often the most insignificant things actually matter. Think of transport. It is so present in the lives of so many of us that it has become normal to use it unquestioningly. Some of us use their cars daily, some public transportation; some even take the plane frequently (more than twelve times a year, some even more!). In our contemporary societies, transport, just like telecommunication, pervades the lives of humans in such a deep way that it has transformed the organism-environment relationship. The word itself is significant. In Latin, trans- means "across" and -port means "to carry". Being transported is the action of being carried across a surface, that is from point A to point B. This use of the term creates a dissociation of organism and environment. Indeed, the organism becomes a point moving on the still surface of the environment. This conception of movement is geometrical, rather than experiential, and that is where the problem comes from. A geometrical account of movement is not sufficient to denote the rich experience of an organism moving within an environment.

The passivity and abstractness of transport

The notion of transport entails passivity and abstractness rather than an active and concrete engagement with the world. When you drive a car, you are in the process of going from one point in space to another point in space. You carry yourself across a surface, making you believe that the world is a surface to be crossed constantly. While you drive, the environment around you is the fixed plasticness of the interior of the car; it is built to be unchanging, making you believe that the world is static. The same applies to the roads; they are meant to be solid, non-evolving and uniform surfaces so that you can travel as fast as you can from A to B. There is a treble fallacy at work here. Transport makes you believe that the world you move in is a surface, a surface that does not change over time, and a surface that you do not interact with. It is wrong to believe that the environment is a surface, and yet in our contemporary societies, this fallacy is inherent to the language and concepts we use to describe movement in space. Think of geography for instance. Geography represents the world in a two-dimensional way. Take the geographical representation of cities: we represent cities on a map, with buildings as squares, and roads as lines. There is often no mention of slopes or of the heights of the buildings, or the depth of the river and of the tunnels of the underground. The information we get while reading a map is that it is a flat surface, not a voluminous space. It is wrong to believe that the environment does not change–even the built environments of contemporary societies, such as cities for instance do change. Even though we have a tendency to view routes and cars–or planes, or buses, or any other means of transportation–as if they were unchanging, they do evolve over time. A simple close look at a road sided by trees will show you that: the roots of the trees always damage the smooth uniform road, demonstrating that the road is not congealed and that it is not purely superficial (i.e. not purely a surface). It is wrong to believe that you do not interact with the environment you move in, even though that environment may seem to have nothing to do with you, to be separated from you. Accidents reveal to us what we ourselves conceal: imagine that you are driving your car; no one else is on the road, when suddenly a huge deer leaps out of the forest right in front of you. The collision is violent, immediate, and mind-blowing: you were part of the ecosystem, even though you thought you were just crossing it! These examples reveal that transport biases us towards conceiving the world and the environment in a certain way, as dissociated from us. This fallacious understanding of the organism-environment relationship blinds us, so we need to get away from it and embrace the ever-changing dynamism and interconnectedness of our spacial world. Believing that you are separated from the environment is an illusion! A dangerous illusion reinforced by our very way of life. Again, transportation has considerably ameliorated the lives of millions of people, and I'm not implying that we should get back to a hunter-gather life. However, we need to understand the core of the organism-environment relationship, not simply its apparent surface! We need to take some distance and look critically at the way alleged technological progress change our conception of our engagement with the world.