X-51A

Above: The X-51A Waverider under the wing of a USAF B-52 in 2009. The X-51 is designed to accelerate to about Mach 6 (4,600 m.p.h). Credit: USAF/Chad Bellay.

X-51A

Above: Graphic rendering of the USAF X-51A Waverider, a prototype experimental hypersonic aircraft powered by a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne SJY61 scramjet engine. Credit: USAF, 2010.

Lockheed N=2

Above: A graphic rendering of Lockheed N+2 supersonic experimental commerical jet aircraft, 2014. Credit: Lockheed Martin.

Journey Time

Continuous incremental increases in passenger transport speeds produces a "world wide phenomenon of terrestrial and technological contraction (SP: 152)." Technologies such as the hypersonic jet-engine, electromagnetic propulsion (EMP), modern highway systems, and so forth, all cut travel time substantially. Journey time is getting incrementally reduced. In many cases (such as commercial flights in Europe, for example) the traveller arrives very soon after setting off. Pan-global travel is becoming ordinary and quite mundane. Due to such technologies the planet is being, as it were, shrunk-down, and this effect Virilio designates as dromospheric pollution. The effect on the individual of dromospheric pollution is a developing and pervasive sense of confinement, restriction, and actually claustrophobia (SP: 150).

Overall, "the world is shrinking and a feeling of incarceration is already looming ... the feeling of the world's narrowness will soon become intolerable (VW: 48)," and eventually, "incarceration will become a mass phenomenon (CD: 63)." Virilio is tempted to appropriate Foucault's phrase "the great confinement" (a term which Foucault used to describe the tendency of Enlightenment-based civilizations, especially since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, to sequester and isolate the schizophrenic-psychotic thus insulating rational society from supposedly harmful irrational influences). For Virilio, the great confinement could be a good term to use to describe the psychological impact of super-fast inexpensive international travel, "this great confinement is before us it resides in this absence of geographical space (VW: 56)." The concern with super-fast and often super-cheap international travel is that it tends to invisibly promote and actually provoke jadedness towards the planet. So, as an environmentalist, Virilio's exhortation is to encourage--and in fact direct--a greater interest in "gray ecology" that is, the study and protection of the Earth as a vast planet and so one which tends to engender awe and wonder. Equally, as the speed of travel continues to increase, the meaningful cognitive experience of the journey itself is always reducing--the relationship between the two factors is inversely proportional: the faster one travels the less one experiences of the specifics of the geography-and-culture that is being passed through, "the faster I travel to the end of the world, the faster I come back, and the emptier my mental-map becomes. Going to Tokyo in the same time it takes to get to Naples by train has permanently reduced my world (VW: 42)." Earth was formerly experienced as a near-infinite or seemingly limitless environment for humans to inhabit. In the present its all-to-obvious limitations have increasingly come to the fore, on this Virilio regularly repeats an epigramatic comment he attributes to poet-and-philosopher Paul Valery (1871-1945), "the time of the finite world is beginning."

In this context perhaps the most obvious instance of our unavoidable confrontation with the finite is our recognition that the planet's resources are finite and so there logically must be an absolute limit on the maximum number of humans that the planet can support--the number of hectares of farmable land suitable for growing food-for-humans is finite and cannot be extended. (A figure of around twenty billion has been cited as a likely upper self-limiting-restriction on the human population of Earth.)

Speed is altering human perception and our entire relationship to space-distance-speed. The trajectory of philosophy which is most important now (must be worked on, researched further, etc.) is the one which emphasizes an exploration of the relationship of the human self to space and time (so particularly the philosophical strand that includes Husserl, Bergson, Bachelard, et al.). Overall, there just is not enough critical theory around this topic of our transforming relationship to place-space-time insofar as it is drastically altered by new technology. Philosophy as a discipline has been astonishingly complacent on this. This lack of much needed theorizing of speed or "dromoscopy" is a scandalous dereliction of academic research--something that Virilio repeatedly bemoaned with his friends Deleuze and Guattari (AAF: 27). Virilio's attitude is that he does what he can, but it is not actually his field, "I am not a philosopher. I don't give a damn about philosophers. I am an essayist and I am working on my own turf (OA: 27)."