Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Car Repair and the Role of Car Accidents in Technological Innovation

Technological evolution includes both successful innovations as well as catastrophic failures. If we look at the history of technology as contingent -- in other words, just one of many possible outcomes -- then every event, whether intentional or accidental, affects the outcome. Instead of beginning at the global level, sometimes it benefits us to focus on one specific technological object or event and work outward from that point. The automobile has many systems that support its existence. Sometimes, a car breaks down, and sometimes aspects of the system itself break down.

With the constant movement of vehicles on the road, it is a statistical inevitability that accidents will occur. The car accident is one event in the wider technological system that can be focused on to derive insights about technological progress and technological failure. The direct followup in the sequence of events following a car accident is the need for car repair. To look at the overall system like an ecological system, we can see that the need for car repair results in the emergence of a car repair industry.

The focus on car repair is helpful because it allows us to see a relationship in which the car accident and car repair interact with each other. Automotive repair is but one component of the overall support system for the vehicle, but its emergence shows us that large technological systems form organs for repair and maintenance much like in living organisms. From the relationship between car accidents and repair, one should next move to the larger "organism": the automobile itself.

From where does the automobile emerge? What does the car's ubiquity tell us about ourselves? The car (and the internal combustion engine) can be said to be a combination of two of our earliest technological leaps: the wheel and fire. A car, in a sense, is also a projectile, like an arrow hurtling toward its target. The automobile is a combination of speed and vision. The car does not stand alone; it is always connected to other technologies. Entire industries are based around fueling it. Networks of roads and highways are constantly maintained and improved to support it. It presents us with a number of unsolvable problems: the accident, the traffic jam, the unexpected vehicular malfunction. The automobile has changed the way we live and view ourselves in relation to the greater global community. The changes that the car and the "car accident" have brought into the world are many, and our lives as we currently live them would not be possible without the existence of the automobile.

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