THST 2450 Assignment #6: Invisible Technology

As the concept of civilization has evolved, humans have gone from dipping their hands in the river and taking a drink, to constructing containers holding larger quantities at a time, to the manual pump, all the way to complex piping, sewage and treatment systems we see today. This infrastructure has infiltrated and installed itself into the deep layers of skin of our Earth, all for the crucial substance of life: water. The ways in which humans have harnessed this necessity is a representation of the manner of development of systems around aspects of existence we deem perpetually necessary. Through the lens of media ecology, the inventions of the pump and the pipe — tools of intentional diversion and control — are the media through which the signal, water, can ideally appear. And it has become so sophisticated, so streamlined, that we have generally easy access to this signal in the western hemisphere; it is so automatic and ubiquitous that the media of pipes and pumps and faucets and sinks has become an integral part of the blueprints of residential and commercial interior architecture, to the point where pipes are literally sight unseen (unless by choice), and the rest is virtually so. Essentially, these technologies have made themselves invisible.

 

Even the “visible” parts of this system are so ingrained as part and parcel of the majority of at least western dwellings, that they then become invisible by default. No one is surprised when they walk into a friend’s new home and see at least two faucet-and-sink areas, and even further, no one is surprised when a simple push or turn action of the faucet handle releases a steady stream of water.
But maybe we should be surprised. It takes a coordinated effort of technologies to bring the clear life serum to a fingertip reality. It is an effort that requires an unconscionable amount of maintenance and innovation. But that is exactly what got civilization up to this point. Much like the sustained evolution of the internet, from cranky dial tones and jumbled cables to cleaner hard-wires to now but a wisp of data floating through the air like a formation of transparent birds, water systems development has hit the stage of clean, efficient wires (pipes). Maybe it can be said that the ecology of the internet has entered into the area of becoming a climax community; receivers installed in anything from televisions to sprinklers has created an Internet of Things. So much is working together in a network that is seemingly sustainable. It would only be chronological that the next stage of water delivery in this analogy would be to go pipeless; perhaps homes will be equipped with condensation/rainwater-catching mini-reservoirs (technology like this already exists, but has clearly not implanted itself into the common household). If data is in the “cloud”, and all we need is a receiver to transmit and translate the signal for everyday use, and water is stored in the literal clouds, then we only need a receiver for it. Right? Now, it is safe and I am thankful to say that this is not the point at which society is. Luckily, we do not have to splay out giant tarps to funnel rain for our personal uses.

 

Yet.


But, was WiFi absolutely necessary? Was the old ethernet hookup just too cumbersome as a mainstream access method to the world wide web? The answer ‘no’ could probably be argued successfully to both questions. But the conventional wisdom here suggests that it’s not that we don’t cherish our wired setups that give us unfettered access, it’s that wireless is just better. It provides an untethered yet connected version of discursive bliss. Would we, will we, feel the same pleasure from breaking free from yet another grounded chain of “the past”? There are a million different motivations for why a million different people have decided to harvest their own water supplies — whether it be a conscious revolt against the monolithic government system that by and large controls it, or just modest and local ingenuity put into practice. Maybe this approach would cause us to place more value on the resource being harvested, thereby reversing or at least significantly curtailing the long emergency among many long emergencies: a decreasing and relatively low-access fresh water supply.

Another question comes to mind: just who or what is driving the ship here? We would like to think we are the collective arbiters of this system of utilities that we have ostensibly constructed. But maybe they are as biological and evolving as we are; they merely interact with us, and water, to increase in complexity or efficiency, just as humans evolve from babies to adults. Of course it could be that it all is biological, evolving, interconnected, and interactive. As each of us, and humanity as a whole, develops over time, these media extensions will continue to change — and we will continue to talk to each other. It will certainly be interesting to see the direction in which this invisible technology grows, but all signs point to more invisibility. Some form of end point, like a faucet, might stay, but if the development of this technology is analogous to the internet delivery, then who knows — the internet has now reached us through a wearable item. Maybe water will go micro, and then go nano.

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