Containers and Matter – Sleep vs technology

October 13, 2014

The swamp seems passive, dead almost. But around the half sunken trees (no, they grow there!) and the floating algae, the activity is high. This might be one of the most bio diverse places in this country…

Then suddenly; a muffled sound in the distance, but they can’t hear it, only feel it like a steady vibration deep inside. They want to scream but are out of voices. In the distance someone is pointing on a graph, explaining that and that, laughing at them, saying that they are so small and insignificant. “What did you ever do to change?” they are asked. They try to look at whatever creates that pain, but they don’t have any eyes so they just point in the direction of destruction, trying to say – with their bodies that are protectoral shells– that they where there, all those years ago they where there, they’ve seen it all. They try to say that there is no such thing as revolutions, only rises and falls of insignificance. They try to say that it’s all contained inside their bodies that are like shells. But it’s out of reach and insignificant to many.

Then there is this moment of silence; they now appear to be nothing more than empty bags thrown away in the moss, the only thing giving them away being the claws pointing out from under the skin.

The swamp is now emptied, drained on hidden treasures and significance. The temperature is sinking, and sinking. They are now all asleep.

“Medan björndjur I dvala tål en temperatur nära den absoluta nollpunkten, dör aktiva björndjur vid betydligt mindre extrema temperaturer.”

(“While sleeping waterbears can survive a temperature close to absolute zero, active waterbears dies at significantly less extreme temperatures”.[1]
(Authors translation))


There’s been this idea, in human history; that you can separate man and landscape, body and mind. Zoë Sofia points at this relationship between nature and inhabitants saying; “the organism cannot be considered apart from the habitat that houses it”.[2] Here we see that there’s been a change in how humans understand the relationships between landscape and inhabitants, but we can also se a change in understanding different landscapes through different parameters.

“A swamp is a wetland that is forested. […] Swamps and other wetlands have traditionally held a very low property value compared to fields, prairies, or woodlands. They have a reputation for being unproductive land that cannot easily be utilized for human activities, other than perhaps hunting and trapping. Farmers, for example, typically drained swamps next to their fields so as to gain more land usable for planting crops.

Many societies now realize that swamps are critically important to providing fresh water and oxygen to all life, and that they are often breeding grounds for a wide variety of life.” [3]

The problem with perspective is that it’s hard to see things from other perspectives than your own. Empathy is also something that often comes second hand when put against profit. This can be seen in how much value we put in the GDP, which clearly is a short-term measure that excludes important factors such as sustainability or human value. As our understanding for different aspects and values grow, we might be able to re-evaluate our ideas about values and understand that everything is connected. The farmers will have difficulties in surviving if they erase everything that doesn’t instantly fit into their idea of profitable land; such as with the swamps, due to the fact that they, even though they don’t always know that, are dependent on both animals and functions captured in those swamps.

In the discussion of sustainability you might hear people saying that the technology will solve everything, we just have to invent “that” and “that” first and then everything will be all right. But what if the problem is that “popular culture celebrates each new machine or commodity as a revolutionary wonder.” [4] What if the problem is the way we believe in our own capability to change things through technology? Maybe there is no such thing as revolutionary wonders made by humans, only lame experiments and the game of playing god – a way of self-celebration in an attempt to avoid the ever-present feeling of inferiority. We celebrate change as something clearly good. Progress is a goal in itself even though in the long term it might just ruin everything. Here the preserver might be so much more important than the active projectile. “But since people´s attention is directed most easily to the noisier and more active parts of the environment, the role of the utility and the apparatus has been neglected.”[5]

The Swamp was like the uterus, a matrix taken for granted and seldom uplifted in human cultures. The uterus, the female, has been seen as something passive in comparison to the active, the male sperms.[6] Zoë Sofia says that “container technologies may not be as dumb or as static as we traditionally assume” and that “just as we don’t notice or acknowledge the active giving of the (m)other, so too do we take for granted containers and the resources they supply, they are merely spaces to get stuff out of or put stuff into.”[7] Sofia claims that women might have started to “play a more distinctive role as a food-provider and effective ruler than she had in earlier foraging and hunting economies. […] One manipulates, assaults’ the other remains in place, to hold and protect and preserve.”[8]

There clearly is a problem with celebrating new technology, just as Sofia explains; we take more and more out of the “bestand” and all our resources becomes tool-suppliers: “One danger of this framework, as Michael Zimmerman explains, is that it turns everything, even ourselves, into the same: neither thing, object or subject, but raw material, standing reserve, human resource”.[9]

I find this interesting when it comes to swamps and tardigrades. The swamp, which was seen as a dead wetland, proved to be so much more important than we could imagine and are now seen as containers of un-profitable values such as biodiversity. The tardigrade is interesting here since it can only survive extreme conditions through passiveness, turning into an almost dead condition – a kind of sleep. It’s a micro-animal with a much longer history than humans, even though they might not have been neither active nor progressive during that time. What if what humans could learn the most from them is not how to copy their capacity to survive extreme conditions, but rather their capability of transforming into a sleeping condition when things get tough. What if the solution is sleep rather than technology…

/Tove Grönroos

[1] Illustrerad Vetenskap nr 5/2011 pp.34
[2] Zoe Sofia, ‘Container Technologies’ in Hypatia Vol. 15, No. 2, Spring 2000, pp. 182
[3] 2014-10-07
[4] Zoe Sofia, ‘Container Technologies’ in Hypatia Vol. 15, No. 2, Spring 2000, pp. 195
[5] Sofia pp. 186-187 and
[6] Potato Potato Scenkonstkollektiv “Sug F* Slicka K*”, Hägerstensåsens Medborgarhus, 2014-10-07 (
[7] Zoe Sofia, ‘Container Technologies’ in Hypatia Vol. 15, No. 2, Spring 2000, pp. 185
[8] Sofia, pp. 186
[9] Sofia pp .196


2 Responses to “Containers and Matter – Sleep vs technology”

  1. Filip Mesko Says:

    I agree with the previous comment in that the analogy of sleep is used in a beautiful way, but I want to polemically shift the emphasis from technology to capitalism – something which is inherently ever-expanding. Here we return to the question posed by feminists on technology: is it inherently patriarchal or is it merely that the patriarchy controls it? But we rephrase it: Is technology inherently capitalistic or is it merely that the capitalists control it?
    Interestingly, the previous commenter mentions several instances of communication technology, which adheres to the notion of today’s (Western) “post-Fordist” society, in which every aspect of our lives, including communication, is turned into production. During sleep, the body is inert (although not internally) but the mind endlessly continues to process information. In an age of noopolitics and information flows, what does sleep mean? Who or what should we aim to sedate?

  2. JA. Perez DC Says:

    I really like the way you’ve connected disparate sources and analogies. The idea of interconnectedness comes through very persuasively. The conclusion comes from nowhere, which is fantastic. The issue of technology as the source of our problem and the resource that will solve it is a bit of a tragicomedy. I like that you solved this conundrum by suggesting perhaps it is not more work, more technology… but more rest. More resting of the machines, the computers, the cellphones, the printing press?

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