Navigating Airwaves and Waterways: An Ethnography of Mobile ICT Use on the Digital Ship
Maguire, Heather Fiona
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Commercial shipping is a vital part of Canadas economy, moving goods through an intricate network of waterways, lakes, rivers and ports. It is also an industry that is undergoing a remarkable transformation, as new (at least to the industry) digital technologies are taking hold in the wheelhouses and engine rooms of these freighters and tankers. Coupled with the emergence of the digital ship, sailors now have access to a broad array of mobile information and communication technologies, including cellphones, and satellite-based internet access. In light of this, this thesis considers the experiences of sailors who grapple with these changes, to explore how mobile ICTs challenge, complicate, enhance, and otherwise transform their lives. This thesis draws on ethnographic research conducted over a month-long, 4,000 nautical mile journey on an articulated tug and barge that transports liquid asphalt and other black oil products through the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system. Drawing upon media studies, science and technology studies, and mobilities studies, I seek to understand the physical, representational, and virtual worlds of sailors as an assemblage of devices, people, movements, geographies and histories. To do so, three interconnected narratives emerge. The first is a story of connectivity, as sailors manage the home-work divide. The second story is about the sociotechnical power of mobile ICTs, as expertise and autonomy are being eroded by the use of digital devices. The third story is perhaps in response to mobile ICTs, a story about how, even with all of these digital and automation technologies now permeating the fabric of sailors everyday lives, they still, first and foremost, rely on their embodied knowledge to do their jobs. I argue that while the virtual and the representational worlds of the sailor are important, the physical world still holds sway.