Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Technological Distance

Posted by Kirk
Last week my sister-in-law phoned with disturbing news. Coming home after a date, she heard screams in the street. There had just been an accident. A woman who lived in her building was standing behind her parked car accessing the trunk when another car swerved off the road and struck both her and her car with tremendous force. The force was sufficient to sever the woman’s leg.

When my sister-in-law arrived on the scene, the woman’s friend had tightened a belt around her thigh as a tourniquet and held onto her femoral artery with his bare hands so she wouldn’t bleed out. They could not find the leg. My sister-in-law held the woman’s hand and tried to keep her calm while they waited ten agonizing minutes for the ambulance to arrive.

The driver of the car parked half a block down the street and didn’t leave her vehicle until the police escorted her into the back of their car. She was likely in shock over what she had done though she probably didn’t even realize how bad it really was.

This was just three blocks from my home. I have parked in that same spot dozens of times. Days later, I drove by and could see the grizzly fluorescent spray paint outline of the scene on the street. Every vehicle had been outline by the police so they could examine the scene; re-create that night; try to put the pieces back together.

I don’t know if alcohol was involved, or if the woman was tired or distracted. These are the questions that will be asked but they are irrelevant. The automobile allowed this to happen. No matter how fast a drunk, tired or distracted woman runs down a sidewalk in her tennis shoes she will never sever a person’s leg by running into them. The automobile allowed this to happen.

Leaving the nature center where I work just a few days later, I drove past two dead raccoons, two dead opossums and a dead squirrel. I saw them all within one hundred feet. They too were not killed by joggers. The car made this possible.

In the five years I’ve made my commute to my current job I’ve seen at least three squirrels hit by a cars while I watched. The country roads are deadly for wildlife.

I don’t know anyone who would purposefully go out of their way to kill a raccoon or squirrel or opossum. The animals I see every day are not purposefully killed. They are the by-product of our lifestyle. None of the people who hit them with their cars would kill the same animal if they had to do it with their hands. The woman who crashed her car could never imagine she would some day sever the leg of another human.

In the case of the animals, cars, and technology in general, can serve to distance us from the consequences of our actions. People see a dead squirrel on the road and they say, “That animal was hit by a car,” and not, “That animal was killed by a person.” A symptom of our denial.

In the case of the woman, technology has allowed someone to do something horrible they never thought possible. These are two sides of the same coin really.

We need to slow down, consider our every footfall, and take part in the world around us as one of many beings, not as just a technological passenger. Our technology allows to do the things we swear we would never do. We often drive on blindly, unaware of the carnage we leave in our wakes. Our technology has allowed us to move faster than the natural pace of the world both physically and metaphorically.

We need to slow down.