York University

Heather Maguire is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Joint Graduate Program in Communication and Culture at York/Ryerson Universities. Her research interests centre around the relationship between mobilities, information and communication technologies and sailors’ everyday lives. Her dissertation is based upon an ethnography of life onboard Victorious/John J. Carrick, an articulated tug-barge that moves asphalt throughout the Great-Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway system to the East Coast of North America.

Taking a slow boat from China: ICTs and the affective realm of slow mobilities

It took 22 hours to get to China from Toronto by air, and over 100 days to return by sea, according to the daily journal kept by one Canadian sailor sent as part of a team to bring a newly built cargo vessel from her birthplace in a Chinese shipyard to her home on the Great Lakes. This paper, drawing upon the entries in this journal along with a series of interviews with the crew of the Victorious, seeks to capture a sense of the slowness of that journey. Slow mobilities are often characterized as an ‘antidote to the fast paced imperatives of global capitalism,’ wherein the process of being slow becomes a strategy for stepping outside of the demands of modern life. However, within the context of the commercial shipping industry, an industry upon which the global flows of goods, people and capital rely being slow is integral to the experience. This research, part of an ethnography of life at sea completed in 2010, addresses seafaring mobility as both a technical and affective experience. Building upon research that seeks to explore the ‘technoculture of slow,’ this paper positions slow mobilities in relation to information and communication technologies to reveal the emotional and affective sensibilities of being at sea. Slowness, then, when understood in relation to ICTs, unveils a sense of boredom, loneliness and a closeness that might not otherwise have been.