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on travel

I wake up this morning and there's this image, in my mind's eye, of the tiny LCD screen on the back of the 777's seats, a tiny map of the world in it and the tiny airplane approaching Europe, nearing the end of an imaginary line that, if it were high-res, would seem to be lifted from the well-known "travel sequences" of the Indiana Jones movies. I thought about this image and I wondered if this fixation with modern planes of showing us maps doesn't have a lot to do with what I think is a widespread confusion these days between the map and the territory.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, when globalization started revving up, fueled by worldwide trade and mass migration flows, traveling implied a transition that is hardly visible today. Any meaningful distance required weeks, sometimes months. You literally lived in a well-defined transitional stage, in some cases in relatively alien environments (such as spending weeks at sea). When you crossed oceans then, there was no denying that something big was happening. The transition for each trip was as different as each starting point, and destination. Map and territory where clearly different.

But now that distinction has become less visible ... I have this recurring question in my head of how modern travel has affected our idea of "place", since the transition phase of travel has become a well-orchestrated, relatively fast and almost boring, endlessly repeated and repeatable, predictable event (delays included), the transitions as uniform and similar to each other as lines drawn on maps. Or how fast travel affects our expectations for the culture we are about to encounter (if new to us) to re-engage in (if known). Or how we transfer our idea of self between the place we left yesterday to the completely new place we arrived today, twelve thousand kilometers away.

I wonder how much this is (and has been, for a few decades now) changing the way we deal with reality, especially when you couple it together with video-game like real-time news coverage and such. (Or whether we are dealing with reality at all.)

What also I noticed this last trip was that for the first time the Internet became, in my mind, a separate place, somehow. Another place that, unlike my surroundings, remained constant no matter where I was. What triggered the change? I'm not sure, but the feeling was definitely there, subsumed in the currents of the everyday.

Anyway. Enough philosophical pondering for one day no? :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 21, 2004 at 9:23 AM

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