Thursday, July 20, 2006

Jumbo Jet, Connected


Leave it to the impossibly strange yet fantastically compelling historian of media technology Friedrich A. Kittler to describe what, in his opinion, was the most mediated technology ever: the Jumbo Jet. In "Gramophone, Film, Typewriter" October 41 (Summer 1987): 101-118, which is perhaps either an encapsulation or segment from his book of the same title, Kittler attempts to write a history of technology, a history that is not authored by people, but by the technologies themselves.

Musing about commerical aviation, Kittler writes:
But right now there are still media; there is still entertainment. One is informed -- mainly, unfortunately, thanks to jumbo jets. In the jumbo jet, media are more densely connected than in most places. They remain separate, however, according to their technological standard, frequency, user allocation, and interface. The crew is connected to radar screens, diode displays, radio beacons, and nonpublic channels. The crew members have deserved their professional earphones. Their replacement by computers is only a question of time. But the passengers can benefit only from yesterday's technology and are entertained by a canned media mixture. With the exception of books, that ancient medium which needs so much light, all the entertainment techniques are represented. The passengers' ears are listlessly hooked up to one-way earphones, which are themselves hooked up to tape recorders and thereby to the record industry. their eyes are glued to Hollywood movies, which in turn must be connected to the advertising budget of the airline industry -- otherwise they would not so regularly begin with takeoffs and landings. Not to mention the technological medium of the food industry to wchich the mouths of passengers are connected. A multi-media embryonic sack supplied through channels or navels that all serve the purpose of screening out the real background: noise, night, and the cold of an unliveable outside. Against that there is muzak, movies, and microwave cuisine.

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