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The Rise and Fall of the Segway

Lessons for the Social Adoption of Future Transportation

Andrew V. Clark, Carol Atkinson-Palombo, and Norman W. Garrick

Once posited as a revolutionary transportation technology, the Segway never took off as some expected because the social acceptance of the technology was not considered in a systematic manner. Using a framework for social acceptance of technology borrowed from the literature on renewable energy, we examine how social, economic, and environmental costs of the Segway, along with regulatory issues presented barriers to implementation. High prices, legislative and spatial issues, and a lack of appeal to consumers presented challenges to acceptance. This case study provides a timely reminder of the multifaceted and complex nature of social acceptance that will need to be applied to future innovations, such as autonomous vehicles, to better understand factors that need to be considered for them to be embraced by society.

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The Tyranny of Time and Space—Weakened but Not Vanquished

Comment on Special Section on Media and Mobility

Patricia L. Mokhtarian

People have exchanged messages across distances of space or time since the dawn of human history. Modern technologies, for both travel and telecommunication, have vastly increased the speed and reach of our communication potential, but the difference from the past is not just one of degree: at least one difference in kind is the convergence of information/computing technology with communication technology (ICT), and specifically the emergence of the (now-mobile) internet. Relationships between ICT and travel are numerous, complex, and paradoxical. Speculation that “modern“ ICT could substitute for travel virtually coincided with the invention of the telephone, but scholars as early as the 1970s also realized the potential for mutual synergy and generation. Although ICT and travel have diminished the tyranny of space, they cannot be said to have conquered it.

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Ritika Prasad

Focusing on the wide-ranging scholarship on how railway technology, travel, and infrastructure has affected South Asia‚ this article highlights recent interventions and shifts. It discusses how questions about land‚ labor‚ capital‚ and markets are being increasingly integrated with questions about how railways affected society‚ culture‚ and politics. It also stresses the increasing interest in comparative work‚ both in terms of locating railways within wider structures of transport and mobility as well as analyzing how South Asia’s engagement relates to the global impact of this technology.

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Tomás Errázuriz

For countries that are not leaders in modernization and technology, discussions of transportation history frequently conclude by acknowledging insufficient research on this topic. Indeed, this was my first impression when committing to this assignment. Nevertheless, once I started to review and gather material, my findings exceeded my initial expectations.

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Mobile Electronic Media

Mobility History at the Intersection of Transport and Media History

Heike Weber

This article takes the history of mobile electronic media as a vantage point from which to view a transformation in everyday Western mobility culture. It argues that mobile media technologies rather than transport technologies constitute today's guiding symbols of mobility whilst mobility itself is seen as going beyond physical movement. In the late twentieth century, its understanding has been broadened and now refers to the mere capacity to be ready for action and, thus, movement. This shift from movement to the potential to move can be observed in the material culture of mobile media. Initially designed to accompany travel, tourism or sport activities, portable radios or cell phones have been increasingly used in stationary or domestic settings, thereby challenging the Western dualisms of mobile/sedentary and public/private. On a methodological level, a focus on mobile media history involves merging the fields of media and transport history with the aim of arriving at a comprehensive mobility history.

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Janet R. Bednarek

Aviation inspires far less historical scholarship than other major forms of transportation technology, especially automobiles and trains—and even space travel. In the years leading up to the centennial of powered flight in 2003 there were some efforts by Dom Pisano, Roger Launius and others both to refine and expand the parameters of the field and suggest emerging research questions. Yet aviation history has remained a small subfield within broader areas of interest, such as military, technology, transportation and business history. More recently, to some degree in response to the efforts of Pisano and Launius, work has been done within social, cultural and urban history, and gender studies. So while the field has been and remains hard to pin down, nonetheless interesting—if sometimes isolated—work continues.

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Fred Paulino

Gambiocycle is a mobile broadcast unit. It is a modified cargo tricycle containing electronic gear for interactive video projection and digital graffiti in public spaces. The Gambiocycle was developed as part of Gambiologia, which is an open-source art movement based on the fusion between technology and “gambiarras”: the Brazilian cultural do-it-yourself practice of solving problems in alternative ways or giving unusual functions to objects, a slang word for technical makeshifts and kludges.

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Marie Thébaud-Sorger

In the history of aeronautics, the balloon has long been regarded as relatively unimportant—or even excluded from the field; “lighter-than-air” technology (to use the expression coined by Nadar) was considered a dead-end which may have delayed the arrival of airplanes at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, in the early years of aviation, both technologies were deeply interrelated on numerous levels, sharing the same milieu of entrepreneurs, pilots (for instance the remarkable Santos Dumont) and public enthusiasm. But the disappearance of dirigibles accompanies the construction of a heroic history of powered flight by the airplane as a symbol of modernity. However, the focus has recently shifted, through the work of eminent aviation historians such as Tom Crouch,1 and also because dirigible history has returned to the scene—for instance through the excellent studies of Guillaume de Syon who has stressed the popular and political mobilization that sustained the impressive development of this technology from the last decade of the nineteenth century until the 1930s. From the point of view of the aeronautics community (lobbies, technicians and publicists), 1880s dirigibles were a technology of the future that inherited a longstanding culture originating in the first aerostatic experiments at the end of the eighteenth century. If balloons could not yet be steered, aerial displacement was indeed a practical technique applied in races and experiments, and associated with learned societies, conferences and shows. Such endeavors nourished public expectations, political investments and, with the introduction of the dirigible, even fostered an institutional regulatory framework in the first international aerial law, as in the international conference at La Haye in 1899.

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Georgine Clarsen Gijs Mom

The title of this journal, Transfers, merits explication, as it attempts to engage a multitude of scholarly fields, applications, practices and conceptual frameworks. For us, Transfers invokes the movement of people, things, and information through time and space, but it also applies to the transit of concepts between fields of scholarship. The practices of technology transfer are an example of the former, while the latter can be seen at work when the concept of mobility is used to refer to both social (or “vertical”) mobility and physical (or “horizontal”) mobility. Social mobility, for instance, comes into play when the possession of a car leads to higher status, or when the train compartment becomes a medium of social exchange or the display of social hierarchies rather than simply a vehicle of physical transport. Interdisciplinarity, the key scholarly mode of this journal, always involves the movement of ideas across disciplinary borders, unsettling them in (we think) productive ways. Transfers, in other words, connects adjacent fields of scholarship as much as it connects geographical areas between which technologies move. It is crucial to understand that during this process, people, technologies, concepts, and goods in movement are transformed and transform their environments in turn. This is not an automatic or passive process: as people move, people translate.

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Transfers between Media and Mobility

Automobilism, Early Cinema, and Literature, 1900-1920

Dorit Müller

The essay analyzes the interrelationship between media technologies and the development of mobility based on a concrete historical constellation—the emergence of automobilism and its representation in literature and film between 1900 and 1920. The focus lies on Western European countries and most notably on Italian and German literature as well as British, German, and French films. During that period, the portrayal of the automobile in these countries shows a dominant pattern: due to their speed, cars seem to embody a destructive power per se. This is expressed by numerous violence-related scenarios. However, the accentuation of destructive tendencies cannot only be described as a response to increased risks. Rather, they are a product of media technologies and media-specific aesthetics, too: film, establishing itself as a new media form experimenting with “dynamization“ and destruction; and literature, responding to the new visual media using dynamic language and the demolition of traditional poetic forms. Consequently, the noticeable surge in technology around 1900 created new and different types of mobility in the areas of transportation and media, influencing each other.