Post comments on reading. Also, you might say something about your experience with water transportation.
I found Twain's "Life on the Mississippi" very interesting. I first thought how crazy it was that he had to completely memorize the Mississippi River. No one today would have any time for that. Then I started to think about all of the skills that we don't have today because technology can do it for us. No, I'm pretty sure none of us would still be memorizing rivers. But even the simple task of reading a map is lost on us, myself included. I am the most frustrating driving partner to my mom. She asks me to direct her on road trips, but it's easier for her to just pull over and do it herself. And I'm ashamed of that. My mom and dad paddled their canoes from Washington to Alaska. Not only did they have to physically be able to do that, but they had to know how to read maps and compasses, and I can't even orient myself on a road map?
Today we have GPS on our phones (which I honestly couldn't live without.) I was visiting a friend in NYC, and was on my own for an afternoon while she was at work. She told me if I got lost, to just look it up on my phone. That was it! And I may be wrong about the way this works, but I remember taking a trip on my grandfather's small yacht, and him turning on auto pilot, and the boat steered itself. It's crazy to think how far we've come.
In Mark Twain's Life In the Mississippi, I, too, thought it was really interesting how he had to learn to navigate the Mississippi. The river was his main source of transportation for where he needed to go, and he was required to know the river front and back. He even had to memorize the shape of the river at every point so that he could use that to navigate by at night. In today's society, we have road signs all over highways and off roads, along with lights, to help navigate us to where we need to go. If you we're going to go on a cruise that sailed through the night, the boats now have GPS that can automatically help the captain navigate in the dark to where they need to go. This is the same with driving cars to unknown places, if we get lost our cars and even phones have gps to help navigate us at any point in time we wish to use it. This type of communication has opened up so many possibilities for people to not only travel more often, but to be able to travel to places further away without getting lost.
I haven't had much personal experience with water transportation, other than taking small passenger boats between islands when my family travels to Hawaii. You can take half hour plane trips or boats to go from island to island, but boat travel is the cheapest and allows you to stop at snorkel spots along the way. However, I will say that I am not a huge fan of boat travel in the ocean. It is always that first to be in the middle of the pacific, but eventually you can feel the motion on the waves and it gets to be uncomfortable. It also takes much longer than a plane would. In this case, I would much rather take the plane.
Reading the chapters from Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, I was struck by just how difficult it would have been to be a steamboat captain during the time of Twain’s experiences. The most vivid descriptions for me were the ones relating to the changes in the river. I could picture Twain having to memorize curves and bends, landmarks and hilltops. I sympathized with his frustration at the river seeming different during the day, in the fog, and at night. Likening learning the river in the dark to learning ones’ “front hall” is a great analogy, because I have run into my fair share of furniture in the night!
I also found myself thinking about Twain’s experiences in relation to sea travel today. While I don’t know much about navigating the waters, I can only imagine that a great deal of technology (GPS, sonar, etc.) is used in ship navigation today. I must admit that my only experience with water travel is that I went on a cruise for a family vacation when I was a child. I never gave much thought to the difficulty of steering the ship and getting from point A to point B. I wonder what Twain would think of the technologies I mentioned that are used for navigation today. Would he still view captaining a ship as the romantic pursuit he pictured in his youth?
Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain was a rather interesting account of the life of a trainee steamboat captain. The part that struck me as most interesting was the fact that they had to navigate the river at night in complete darkness. Since at the time Thomas Edison had not improved upon the light bulb yet, and electricity wasn't really something commonly used, this makes sense, but is something that is extremely hard for us to relate to today considering every where we go is lit up.
Coming from a smaller town in Nebraska, I did grow up near many fields and gravel roads that weren't lit at all, and this somewhat reminded me of Twain's account on the Mississippi because there were many times that my friends and I would go walking around at night looking up at the stars. While the gravel roads are usually straight, we could still get lost. Eventually, we got used to navigating the area around our house's by the landmarks since the street signs were impossible to read, or non-existent. I can imagine this is the way that the steamboat captains got used to the dark. The analogy used in the story is great at illustrating the concept behind the way they navigated, you can walk through the main hallway in your house in the dark because you have it memorized, and not because you can see or feel it.
In the beginning of the 7th chapter, David Nye discuses how the canals and railroads, though a central part of the infrastructure of industrialization, worked to fuel tensions between the classes and made the cities less appealing to the wealthy. Though I understand how any large infrastructure could present clashes between the classes I wasn't able to figure out exactly what tensions these sparked. Was the pollution from these newly formed technology the reason behind the urban elites moving to suburban areas or was it a different matter entirely?
I find it interesting that with the implementation of the central corridor light rail and the planned expansion of light rail throughout Minneapolis and the surrounding area, class conflicts cannot be avoided. This was apparent to me when reading about the upcoming Southwest light rail and its proposed route. In the comment section of the news article, excluding a few environmental concerns, critique and praise were written largely based on class concerns. Stops were disputed based on how they would best serve the public - as many commenters saw it, the light rail should serve those with the lowest income. However, others believed that it was not a matter of serving those most in need, but selecting stops that would gather the most riders - and consequently those stops were in wealthier neighborhoods such as Uptown and Loring Park.
I think the concept of work and energy saved by technology versus work and technology created by technology is interesting. While the narrator of Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi is enchanted initially by the idea of traveling the river and learning the adventurous life of water travel in a steam boat, he soon realizes how much work is involved in the process of this new technology even though it saves so much time when you compare it to paddling or sailing. He states this explicitly when he writes “I began to fear that piloting was not quite so romantic as I had imagined it was; there was something very real and work-like about this new phase of it.” This goes beyond even physical work too; when he talks about learning the ways of the steamboat, he says, “Two things seemed pretty apparent to me. One was, that in order to be a pilot a man had got to learn more than any one man ought to be allowed to know; and the other was, that he must learn it all over again in a different way every twenty-four hours.”
I think that this relates well to the challenges that modern workers face in our society today. Everyone is expected to come into their new workplace with a certain set of technological skills, whether they relate to computer programming, different softwares, social media, or machinery operation. And although we who are currently in school have the certain advantage from growing up in an age of constant technological flux, this sometimes becomes more of a pressure than a gift. We are expected to be able to use technology deftly simply because of our youth, when in fact, many in our generation are clunky around technology and would rather do without. This causes an extra element of work (trying to learn new programs and impress our peers with that knowledge) when technology is in theory meant to ease our workloads.
After reading the chapters from Life on the Mississippi, I began to picture myself in his shoes during that time. And honestly, I do not think I could have handled it! First of all, I am not used to that kind of rural and rustic atmosphere-I've lived in the city my whole life, let alone having to memorize and navigate the river all by memory and instinct! Today, we have navigation systems built into cars and Google and Apple Maps on our smartphones. We have no need to ever really look at a tangible map as long as we have internet service. Our society, in my opinion, relies heavily on Google maps, GPS, and mapquest. And we get frustrated if they take us to the wrong place or tell us to turn the wrong way. When you think about it, it's kind of comical picturing a human yelling at a technological device. "You told me the wrong way!" News flash: they don't talk back (unless it's Siri). These kinds of tasks Twain describes are not very common today, dubbed outdated, and may be even considered dangerous.
Transportation as a means to bind the nation along with this notion that machinery seemed to be developing more rapidly than the political systems that were to govern it. Technology as something that is used to have control over nature, but in turn needs a political system to govern it is an intriguing concept. That our country is founded on this constant need for control over anything and everything has clearly shaped our western way of thinking. Even within the title of this chapter from Nye’s America as Second Creation, “Let Us Conquer Space” implies this mode of thought. Space as something that needs to be conquered as opposed to just being. Waterways seemed to be there just for settlers to use as transportation. The waterways were a necessity in order to fulfill this incessant need to control that our founders seemed to have. If I look at our modern use of water, I see mostly recreation. My only experiences with water travel have been on ferries to get a different perspective on a space, or as something simply for fun, like sailing. Water as a recreation also implies this need for control over any given space. It existing if only for our enjoyment makes it seem as though this idea of conquering space hasn’t left us.
It's amazing, the effect that something as simple (in principle if not is actuality) a canal can make on an entire population.
It really brings an eye back from just looking at the United States and our expansion westward, but throughout the whole world and human history.
Transportation and the ability to ease the burden of transportation are incredibly important for the building and movement of societies.
It is interesting, then, the adversity some people have to the construction of foundations for this movement, this transportation. I suppose that it was the idea that the states weren't unified at the time, or just barely had been as was the case in the early 1800s.
Travel is one of the most important parts of lives and is worth investing in, even barring profit in the short term. I believe that this can be drawn from the past and can be applied to the future, with space travel and such.
"let us conquer space"
I think that the key things that these readings emphasize are that transportation is key in creating and sustaining the economy of a rising civilization, and the quicker the transportation, the more efficient the society. But as much as it was important to create new modes of transportation, it was equally important to create roads and canals and bridges. A society without infrastructure is completely maimed, for what is a train with out tracks, what is a car without roads, and what is a riverboat without canals and docks? Fast transportation means trade, and trade is the key to any economy. Personally, transportation fascinates me. I think the most amazing technologies are the ones that have caused humans to be able to move themselves across vast distances in a fraction of the time that it took them four hundred years ago. It is immensely important to be able to move people and products from one place to another. Infrastructure and transportation, if neglected become the disease of a society’s ability to function in the modern world. As for water transportation, trade would be impossible without it. My experience with water transportation has been with ferries. Although today, there are not many places where it is necessary to use ferries as the only means of getting across a water obstacle. Ferries today seem to be more of a novelty than anything else. However, I do believe that ferries are in greater use in places like Europe, where it isn’t as easy or practical to put huge interstates everywhere.
Twain's Life on the Misissippi is a fascinating read and does a thorough job describing the realities of the responsibilities of a Riverboat captain. As somone from Minnesota, my only perspective of the Mississippi river is based on my experience on and around the stretch that runs through St Paul. I can only imagine how the river would look as it runs through Mississippi and Louisana - wide, brown and muddy, with shallows and sandbars. Life on the Mississippi shows the knowledge and skills involved in sailing a river in a time before radar, depth finders, and GPS.
Although not quite an apples to apples comparison, one of my most memorable experiences on a "riverboart" was on a trip to Disney World in Florida on the Sassagoula River Cruise. Disney runs a fleet of fifteen 50-passenger boats that travel between their downtown marketplace area and several hotels along their man made Sassagula river. These boats are both fun and practicle, as an alternative means of transportation. Although it was a man made river, I was always impressed at how well the captains navigated the boats up the winding river, under bridges, and along docks. At night, the river is lit only with several navigation bouees and the running lights of the boats, which are typically turned off while traveling. Twain's passage describing how the Mississippi river captains needed to map the river in their minds for day and night travel, reminded me of impressed I was with how well and how quickly the Disney captains navigated the twisting river through the dark. While they didn't have to worry about sand bars, there were several occasions where dark and windy conditions, made traveling the Disney river as exciting as any of their E-ticket attractions.
The prospect of piloting a steamboat such as that in the chapters seems to me to be a tremendously hard endeavor. As Twain remarks on the plethora of things to remember to easily traverse the river, I could only think that it would take tens of trips, if not more, to be able to feel confident in leading a boat's passage. His chief made it seem as though he was stupid for not being able to remember exactly where and when they had been.
In Chapter 7 of "America as Second Creation", the way that the narratives about canals and railroads were written in different ways was fascinating. They both drastically reshaped the way people were able to survive, work, and travel. It allowed the conquering of space across the large area that is the United States.
As I have never been on a cruise, most of my time spent on the water in a mode of transportation has been leisurely. I have been on many fishing boats, speedboats, pontoons, jet-skis, paddle-boats, and kayaks.
This page contains a single entry by Capper Nichols published on February 4, 2013 11:09 AM.
America as Second Creation - David Nye: Introduction and chapter 1 was the previous entry in this blog.
America as Second Creation - David Nye: chapter 7 (152-173); train songs is the next entry in this blog.
Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.