The term ‘technology’, referring to the ‘branch of knowledge dealing with the mechanical arts and applied sciences’, first appeared in English in 1787, with usage as an ‘application of such knowledge for practical purposes’ appearing in 1829 and its definition as a ‘product of such application’ (machinery or equipment) or a ‘process, method, or technique’ following in 1898 (Oxford English Dictionary). In the field of travel writing, the application of technological knowledge and its resulting products influence the travel experience and, thus, the form and content of travel narratives.
New technologies allow us to view and experience differently the landscapes and cultures through which we travel. In 1909, describing his view of streetlamps through a car window, F. T. Marinetti notes the disorienting new visual experiences of automobile travel (40) while, in a more positive light, Mary Suzanne Schriber (1991, xxiv) compares Edith Wharton's perspective from within the car a few years earlier to a camera lens that allows her to approach a town ‘panoramically, as if with a wide angle lens […] and then to zoom in, by contrast, for a close-up’. In A Motor-Flight through France (1908), Wharton also highlights the sometimes problematic relationship between the traveller's gaze and technology. The car takes her to historical sites she would otherwise be unable to access but it also is a harbinger of increasing traffic. Similarly, in In Morocco (1920), she worries about how new highway infrastructure and an attendant influx of tourism will impact Morocco's ancient culture, emphasizing that her travel narrative offers a view of the country that is disappearing in the face of this technological change.
Considering the relationship between humans and technology, posthumanist theory suggests the role of travel technologies as prostheses. Cary Wolfe (2010, xxv) observes that the human ‘is a prosthetic creature that has coevolved with various forms of technicity and materiality’. Of the automobile, Kris Lackey (1997, 4) notes that it quickly ‘assumed the neutrality of a prosthesis’ and has become ‘so well fitted to the human mind and body that it all but disappears’ (5). This phenomenon can sometimes take an ominous turn, as in the way that car culture co-opts women's bodies and subjectivity through advertising (Clarke 2007).