Here is Ivan Illich, from Energy and Equity (1974), his book written in the midst of a global energy crisis that heightened everyone’s sense of our dependence on fossil fuels for transportation:
The habitual passenger cannot grasp the folly of traffic based overwhelmingly on transport. His inherited perceptions of space and time and of personal pace have been industrially deformed. He has lost the power to conceive of himself outside the passenger role. Addicted to being carried along, he has lost control over the physical, social, and psychic powers that reside in man’s feet. The passenger has come to identify territory with the untouchable landscape through which he is rushed. He has become impotent to establish his domain, mark it with his imprint, and assert his sovereignty over it. He has lost confidence in his power to admit others into his presence and to share space consciously with them. He can no longer face the remote by himself. Left on his own, he feels immobile.
The habitual passenger must adopt a new set of beliefs and expectations if he is to feel secure in the strange world where both liaisons and loneliness are products of conveyance. To “gather” for him means to be brought together by vehicles…. He has lost faith in the political power of the feet and of the tongue.
It’s interesting to reflect that you could replace just a few words here and have a good description of our current moment. For instance, “To ‘gather’ for him means to be brought together by vehicles” would make perfect sense today if you substituted “devices” for “vehicles.” In “He has lost the power to conceive of himself outside the passenger role,” the term “passenger” could be replaced by “user.” A technological regime centered on the automobile has been replaced by one centered on smartphones. This is why teenagers today absolutely must have smartphones but are often indifferent to the possibility of learning to drive.
For Matt Crawford in Why We Drive (2020), to drive an automobile is to assert one’s freedom and responsibility. Crawford’s vision is compelling to many of us in a way it would not have been to Illich, and that is because we live in the Smartphone Era. For those of us who live under technocracy, to contemplate a previously dominant technology feels like sniffing the air of freedom. Which suggests to us, or ought to, that technological development may bring certain kinds of ease and speed but also strongly tends to bring constraint — certain procedures of use are enforced, and variations in such procedures are discouraged or forbidden. We move closer and closer to a world in which all must use the same devices, and in which those devices can be used in one way and one way only.