Some more notes on fiction that references GPS.
You Shall Know our Velocity – David Eggers (2003)
A road trip book about two friends (Will and Hand) dealing and not dealing with the death of their friend Jack during a trip around the world, trying to give money away. Issues to do with mobilities come up time and again through their modes of travel, their speed and slowness, border crossings and interactions with people; officials, prostitutes, children and other travelers.
“We had fettuccine and Senegalese beer. We learned that Raymond worked in cellphones. Something involving GPS and cellphones and how, soon enough everyone would know – for their own safety, he insisted, with a fist softly pounding the table, in a way he’d likely done a hundred times before – where everyone else in the world was, by tracking their cellphone. But again: for good not evil. For the children. For the children. For grandparents and wives.
It was the end of an epoch, and I didn’t want to be around to see it happen; we’d traded anonymity for access. I shuddered. Hand, of course, had goosebumps.”
There were also some interesting reflections on views from the outside, from the outskirts and from above. The philosophical question here is so different to the views experienced by Helen Sharman, the first British person in space, who describes the view from space in relation to her family and friends back at home.
“ – When we all argued about whether we’d leave everything here to go into space. What we’d do if given the chance to see space on an exploratory mission, without possibility of return. Without possibility of ever seeing family or friends again. It was a choice between the world or your eyes.”
When they readed the top there was nothing. When reaching that distance that seemed to offer so much, the characters have an immediate need to return to the ground, where decisions are more immediate and visceral. Despite descriptions of the physical feeling of cold, this environment is an empty one, a going outside to find that it is empty. A symbolic distance used for its ability to communicate emptiness and being disengaged. This summit was not the point. In the traditions of the road trip, everything is in the journey and not in the arrival.
“ – So we went up to the mountain, as the air went cooler and colder, and we illuminated the treetops with our headlights, and all the while we were sure there would be a reason at the top, but then we were at the top, where we imagined the top to be, and we stopped and stepped out onto the road, and could feel that we were at the pinnacle of something, and there was silence. There was no sound of anything – no animals, no water, no birds, no insects, no people, not even the wind pushing through trees. We had come to the mountain, to its apex, and there was nothing.”
“ – You know, though, the worst thing was being on top of that mountain, and having the thought that I wanted to be back below, being chased through those streets. I don’t want to tell you this because I’m not in a position to be wishing for these things, and I’m sure you find this offensive considering where you are and why but Jack while up on that mountain listening to nothing, waiting and hearing nothing, and getting cold, I wanted to be back down in those alleys. Jack I wanted to be pursued and wanted to pursue, I wanted to be closer to death than I did to be there in the silence at the top of the mountain. Jack I don’t know if you know how quiet it was up there. It was so black! It was much lighter within those streets, and even the knife at the throat of the man being pressed against the wall of the alley seemed to promise so much comfort, the edge of the blade seemed to me to give such love, would be like a finger lightly stroking my neck, and I wanted then, on the roadside when Hand and I had gotten out and were waiting, to be back down there again, lost in that ghetto. There were rules down there, and there was a task at hand, and there were few options and with few options comes such great solace, Jack!”
And this section about making connections with people struck me, the suggested link between travel and disconnection, and the actions needed to thread people together. A repeat of the idea of being ‘only eyes’, locations without connections, the point rather than the line.
“ At an airport I guess it would be if your relatives were waiting or something, your mother, your cousins, an aunt or uncle, nieces – you would see them, maybe your chubby little cousins, and they’d show you their homework or something and you’d know why you’d come. But I never had that kind of thing, you know that, and when we landed in Estonia, or any of those places, there was nothing of course, no one waiting, and no one wanting us there, no one needing us. There wasn’t one thread connecting us to anyone and we had to start threading, I guess, or else it would be just us, without any train or web and if it was just us, ghosts, irrelevant and unbound, not people but only eyes, then there was something wrong. Something would feel wrong. I don’t want it to be just my eyes, do I, Jack?”