Ash and infrastructure

The ongoing disruption caused by volcanic ash has demonstrated some of the ways in which contemporary urban life is constituted by its infrastructures. Similar in many ways to Don DeLillo’s Airborne Toxic Event, the cloud from Eyjafjallajökull has reinforced the manner in which our sense of self is tied up in the things and circuits that keep us mobile and fed.

In the midst of the coverage one story in The Guardian struck me as particularly noteworthy: Flight ban could leave UK short of fruit and veg.1 Noting that

Britain’s supermarkets could soon run short of perishable goods…as the ongoing ban on UK air travel brought Britain’s largest perishable air freight handling centre to a standstill today.

The story goes on – despite protestations to the contrary from the firms interviewed – that

Customers…will begin to run out of their existing supplies. Many of Britain’s supermarkets operate their supply chains incredibly tightly, using the principle of “just in time” delivery. When disaster strikes, shortages of some items can start appearing within a few days.

The story neatly ties together the constitutivity of networked infrastructure to metropolitan life and the apocalyptic imaginary that besets that form of life. Dependent on the logistics supplied by networks such as air freight, metropolitan life is forever imagining what a systemic collapse might look like.

  1. Richard Wray & Graeme Wearden, ‘Flight ban could leave UK short of fruit and veg’, The Guardian, Friday 16 April 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/apr/16/flight-ban-shortages-uk-supermarkets, accessed 20th April 2010

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