Date of Graduation
This dissertation investigates the way in which the rhetorical construction of the highway has been haunted, first by narratives of promise and progress and then of decay and death. Highways are figured as technological wonders marking the advent of a better future in the 1939 World's Fair and the advertising campaigns of the 1950s, and then as wired-up networks of death in science fictional accounts from the 60s to the 90s. At stake in this project is the very status of metaphor in the analysis of technology. The highway is a compelling 20th-century metaphor that reveals anxieties we have about ecology, the cold war, and the individual; as well as a way of imagining infrastructure in an electronic age, in the shape of the â€œinformation superhighway.â€ In 1964, Marshall McLuhan proclaimed that â€œin the very Hot Peace since the Second War, it is the highways of the mind that have been found inadequateâ€ (102). This comment, aimed at the changing ways in which students must learn to approach media culture, pointed out that just as the Napoleonic Wars tasked engineers to consider new ways to build highway infrastructure, so now must educators create new infrastructures for learning. â€œHighways of the mindâ€ thus refer just as much to ways of organizing thinking and subjectivity as they do to ways of organizing and transporting goods and people. This dissertation argues that one reason the highway remains so compelling as a cultural artifact is that it highlights the stakes involved in a more abstract, ongoing process: the tension between hierarchical and nodal modes of material and informational organization. The highway, both as a hierarchically-conceived means of transporting goods and people, and a nodal-network designed to compensate for missing elements of itself, can thus be seen as an artifact which embodies the ongoing restructuring of materials and ideologies which constitutes cultural change.
Burgess, Helen J., "Highways of the mind: The haunting of the superhighway from the World's Fair to the World Wide Web." (2003). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 8550.