‘Auto’, from the Greek ‘autos’ meaning ‘self’.
‘Mobile, from Latin ‘mobilus’ meaning ‘to move’.
Auto-mobile is Self-mobile: to be able to move or be moved freely or easily.
Modernity is a built-environment—roads, bridges and buildings—and the best way to experience it is behind the wheel of a car, driving along those roads connecting ‘here’ with ‘there’, effectively bringing them closer together.
There is much more to experiencing modernity behind the wheel of a car, however, than experiencing time-space compression. Such is the close identity between car and driver that there is a bio-mechanical intertwining of the two. Driving is an aesthetic, kinesthetic, emotional, in short, a visceral, experience.
The thrill of speed
The sensation as the car swings around a curve
The changing view
The sound of the resisting air moving against the car
The feeling of whizzing down hedge-lined lanes, through sun-dappled woods.
The growl of the exhaust
The pleasing click of a gear-stick slotting into place
Driving can be hopeful, angry, sad, pleasurable or boring. It is the sensation of our motion, or lack thereof, that brings different feelings.
The line of infinity of the open road is analogous to the arrow of time. We drive into the future, not just to a destination. The horizon endlessly recedes just as we never quite arrive at the future.
Consider this famous and fast drive through the boulevards of Paris. That’s modernity right there.
Or am I being nostalgic here, because driving is like this only in car commercials.
For the most part, cars are mobile living rooms which we use to transport us through the urban environment. The commute. The school run. The car mediates between work, family life and networks of friendship.
Most experience ‘nature’ via the car, as a ‘vista’ (the name of a car), a view, a landscape; some thing to be looked at and admired, not traveled through on foot. It is a visual, not a sensual, pleasure. Most visitors to the Rocky Mountains seldom venture more than 300 metres from a road.
The car journey itself is the adventure. Hence the Ford Escape, Ford Ranger, Volkswagen Toureg, Volkswagen Tiguan (a mixture of ‘Tiger’ and ‘Iguana’), the Chrysler Pacifica, Chrysler Voyager or Dodge Caravan.
Although mass produced cars are assembled from components made throughout the world, there are national and regional car cultures and styles of driving.
But in this postmodern, homogenizing world, if ‘here’ is dead and everywhere is ‘now’, isn’t this a road to nowhere?
Now we stay put and ‘travel’ or ‘surf’ the world wide web via our browsers—Safari, Explorer.
Aren’t we better off with a cell phone than a car?