Latour’s Messenger


I am now convinced that Latour has higher powers. At 7:15 am this morning, I sat in my room staring at a blank screen wondering what on earth I was going to write about. I went into the kitchen, and was making my morning coffee when a balding, somewhat short man, around 55 in age and wearing a striped shirt and stonewashed jeans, showed up at my door with a large, baby-blue machine in his right hand. He said his name was Spence and he was here to show me how to use the machine.

My roommate, recently operated on for ACL surgery, explained that this was “her machine.” Spence smiled at as both, dragging what honestly looked like a modern day torture device behind him as he entered our apartment. He said that he need to show us how to use it  on a bed. A bed? This was starting to seem like some sort of 1980s porn movie scene – the college roommates, a deliveryman, some indescribable machine that could only operate on a bed…

Alas, Spence was not a NY porn star and rather a man who spends his days explaining orthopedic machines to people all over the city. We set up on the couch rather than bed and I watched as her mother from India (who I had woken up), her from New York, and Spencer all centered their attention on this famous machine. I kept thinking of the example of the human with the gun, and how the four of them become “someone, something” else. A “composition” that could only be understood in the environment in which we observe it.  My roommate the actant.

I wrote down a few of Spence’s well-rehearsed lines. It was obvious this was not the first time Spence had shown people how to use the machine. I was struck by how often the word “easy” came up. It seems we want things to be easy. Maybe that is why machines have replaced humans. Humans are complicated. We aren’t easy. Our blackboxes cannot be taken apart and analyzed by groups of people like an overhead projector (except perhaps in group therapy). Here are just a few examples of  Spencer’s “easy” lines:

 “Relax, take it easy. I’ll do all the work.”

“This is the control. I am going to make things real easy, cause I like easy. See the four buttons on top, don’t touch them.”

“Your machine. Your control.”

“Easier than a TV remote.”

 “I ask that question a lot. How we doing?” [note the pronoun].

“This whole thing is like easy”

“It is now 10 to 8:00, you’re done. It’s that easy.”

“Thank you, and take it easy.”

The conversation about the machine centered primarily on how easy it was to use it. The machine replaces the humans. “Humans are displaced and deskilled” (301). My roommate no longer has to go to the physical therapist. And amazingly, after Spencer left, and we all sat around mesmerized by the machine, watching as it moved my roommate’s leg and down in a slow, mesmerizing motion, her mom said, “I think I can go home tomorrow.” 

cpm(This is a much more modern version than Spencer’s. Unfortunately I was unable to find a baby blue version).


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