"The atmosphere, is composed of a multitude of small mass-elements, whose behavior is so interrelated that none can be dissociated, even in effect, from all the rest."
-John von Neumann
The geography of the planet has been abstracted and condensed by the ways in which information moves about it. With the sea distant from the concerns of the everyday, a land-focused society has fostered an understanding of the oceans as the environment solely of leisure. But we cannot survive on only information, and found at the edges of our cities, sequestered behind security fences, are the sites that collectively form the supply network for hard and heavy things that still move exclusively by sea. To adopt the terminology of digital networking: the back-end functions of humanity are still undertaken by the merchant sailor and laborer.
Throughout childhood, my family would drive from central New Jersey to rural Long Island where I visited with my grandfather. A former engineer serving on ships in the Merchant Marine, I fell into his stories of the post-war world tying itself back together through the 40’s and 50’s. In a New York City stripped of piers and a world remade by post 9/11 security, the commercial maritime support of our world is only visible in brief glances. Those interstate drives provided my first elevated views of Port Elizabeth afforded by the rusted heights of the Goethals Bridge. Stretching out from Newark Bay, I suspected a world apart, operating out of sight, on a nearly trackless sea, laboring in the contemporary form of an ancient profession. Muddy banks and concrete slabs across the continents’ shores are marked by these connected sites of the maritime network.