Radioactivity (in the air for you and me): portability, or I-Pods and Geiger counters. By: Gonzalo Carrasco Purull.
Recent events following the fire in the reactors of the Japanese city of Fukushima force have returned to a central device within the culture of the Cold War, such as the Geiger counter. The images that have come through the news media show us a few streets where officials provided with anti-radiation suits, measure the levels of some citizens who suddenly have to deal with an invisible enemy, which seems to lurk everywhere: In the air we breathe, food, water, even in places that are usually associated with safe environments, such as households.
While the massive presence of Geiger counters in urban settings is a phenomenon that until the earthquake in Japan seemed to have been relegated almost exclusively to laboratory and emergency services, now they have returned to players and almost synonymous with objective measurement of what is considered safe, it must also recognize in them one of the first phenomena known portability.
In the midst of a world dominated by the miniaturization and portability of technological objects – where the I-Pod, I-Phone and I-Pad, apparently setting the pace of the times – does not seem strange that accountants Geiger having this feature that ensures their mobility. However, the history of Geiger counters realizes how were the conditions of a specific contingency which required the portability of these computers.
Invented in 1908 by Hans Geiger (1882-1945) and Sir Ernest Ruthenford (1871-1937), the Geiger counter equipped with portability was not until arrival of the twenties. In 1925, R. Kegederreis developed a portable X-ray measurement, which was contained in an aluminum box the size of an ordinary suitcase. Weighing more than 18 kilos (of which many of them fell to 22.5-volt battery), the artifact Kegederreis was the first step towards the portability of these computers. However, not until near the end of the decade when John Victoreen initiates the commercial portable instruments. Which during the Second World War are increasing their use, especially after Operation Peppermint. Where they were used to counter the maneuvers of the German army, which to stop the advance of allied troops after the Normandy landings, beaches sprinkled with highly radioactive material. These were the same years that Geiger counters were used massively in the Manhattan Project’s development as a way of safeguarding the safety of employees in charge.
However, it was not until the beginning of the Cold War, when Geiger counters reach the most massive. The growing fear in the American population by an imminent Soviet nuclear attack, did not only increase sales of these laptops, but instructions were published – as appeared in Popular Science magazine in 1955 – where the population is explained how to build for a few dollars their own Geiger counter.
If the mobile nature of medical equipment first and then the troops, marked the portability of the Geiger counter, is not trivial that this artifact is contemporary with other technologies precursor of contemporary urban culture, characterized inter alia by its strong tendency to nomadism . Radio, radar – a precursor to television – and the Geiger counter can be considered as precursors of these other technologies to support urban life, as has become the I-Pod, I-Phone and I-Pad.
No wonder that in a contemporary setting marked by risk and entropy, the Geiger counter and reach not only a massive, but is adopted by the other portable technology and wire-less culture. That at least has signaled the last teams in the U.S. market, where you can access computers that incorporate GPS Geiger, recording not only measurement, but also geo-stationary position.
The portability feature that shares the Geiger counter with the latest wire-less technology, also realize nomadic origin marking of contemporary urban culture at the level of technology shared with military organization and technology of war. Where to travel light, fast on a territory conceived as hostile, is one of its fundamental characteristics.
Yet we fail to see the implications on contemporary urban life the recent earthquake in Japan. But what is certain is that for societies marked by the risk – ecological, economic and social – representations «objective» of human environments will become a requirement. And that we like it or not. Because, as Kraftwerk pointed to the Germans, the radioactivity is in the air, for you and me. VKPK.