-by Ole B. Jensen, Aalborg University
Last night I took the car from my house on the city edge to the centre. My daughter lives there, and as a senior medicine student she is getting ready to join the Corona crew at the local hospital. I brought her some food and freshly baked bread, and a few other things. She is not isolated, but needs to minimize social contact in order to be ready for ‘the call’.
As I drove through the city, I clearly sensed the lack of traffic compared to an ordinary evening. I also noticed the lights in the flats – many more people seemed to be at home. When I reached her street, she came down and picked up the things from the trunk of the car. This way she would not get into contact. We briefly chatted at a safe distance through the window, and I returned to my house.
This trip made me think of the old debate about the car. Is it really a cocoon or an ‘iron cage’ of modern mobility as John Urry (2004) claimed? I often refused this interpretation in my advocacy of seeing the car as ‘filtering’ rather than ‘isolating’ (Jensen 2013). We are sensing-through the car as it mediates the ‘I-World relation’ (Ihde 2009). Speed, street surfaces, lights, and smells are not ‘gone’ but rather transformed and mediated. However driving through Corona City seems to suggest that there is an element of cocooning as well.
I felt rather protected and safe in this iron box (and I do not drive a ‘Hummer’). However, I still prefer to think of the relationship as one of human/non-human hybridity, where the car mediates my senses through a filtering process of ‘osmosis’ (Jensen 2016). We might want to think about it with Sloterdijk’s metaphor of ‘foam’ (2016) pointing to the interconnectedness and the porous relationship between inside and outside, between cell and cell within a foam structure. This is echoing Latour’s point that ‘we are enveloped’ (2008), and my car is such an envelope.
The trip re-enacted an understanding of the embodied and emotive attachments to the car, what Sheller describes as ‘automotive emotions’ (Sheller 2004). As I realized during the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull back in 2010 (Jensen 2011), extreme disruptions are windows into the psycho-practical bonding between mobility technology and humans, and between humans and the infrastructure/city. To move towards a ‘critical automobility perspective’, we need to appreciate this affective dimension. My trip through Corona City was moreover a reminder that disruptive events may work to ‘think with’, and ‘thinking with Corona’ opens up to understand how car-drivers are attached to the car by this strange effect of protection, mobility, and mediation.
Ihde, D. (2009) Post-phenomenology and Technology. The Peking University Lectures, New York: SUNY Press
Jensen, O. B. (2011) Emotional Eruptions, Volcanic Activity and Global Mobilities – a Field Account from a European in the US During the Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, Mobilities, Vol. 6, No. 1, February 2011, pp. 67-75
Jensen, O. B. (2013) Staging Mobilities, London: Routledge
Jensen, O. B. (2016) Of ‘other’ materialities: why (mobilities) design is central to the future of mobilities research, Mobilities, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 587-597
Latour, B. (2008) A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design (with Special Attention to Peter Sloterdijk), Keynote lecture for the ‘Networks of Design’ meeting of the Design History Society, Falmouth, Cornwall, 3rd September 2008
Sheller, M. (2004) Autoemotive emotions: Feeling the car, Theory, Culture & Society, 21 (4/5), 221-242
Sloterdijk, P. (2016) Spheres. Volume 3: Foams. Plural Spherology, South Pasadena: Semiotext(e)
Urry, J. (2004) The ‘system’ of automobility, Theory, Culture & Society, 21 (4/5), 25-39