Friday, January 3, 2014

A Stroll Around the World

This essay in the NY Times was circulating on social media and blogs a couple of weeks ago. Pulitzer Prize-winning National Geographic journalist Paul Salopek sets out from Ethiopia to “walk across the world”.
The “Out of Eden Walk,” as I’m calling it, uses deep history as a mirror for current events. But even as I adhere strictly to my brand of bipedal journalism, trying as it were to put myself in a Pleistocene state of mind, cars keep roaring into my awareness. They are inescapable. They are without a doubt the defining artifacts of our civilization. They have reshaped our minds in ways that we long ago ceased thinking about.
There are two insights in the essay which I continue to find useful, even profound — 1, the car as prosthetic:
The writer Rebecca Solnit nails this mind-set perfectly in her book “Wanderlust: A History of Walking”: “In a sense the car has become a prosthetic, and though prosthetics are usually for injured or missing limbs, the auto-prosthetic is for a conceptually impaired body or a body impaired by the creation of a world that is no longer human in scale.” — Salopek calls it “Car Brain”.
And 2. When behind the wheel motorists “squint with curiosity out of the privacy of their cars as if they themselves were invisible.” When we first sit behind that wheel all our instincts tell us that we need to exercise extreme caution in mastering skills which are deeply foreign to us. White knuckles and cold sweat. Entirely appropriate reactions which are soon followed by the overconfidence that operating huge vehicles at high speed requires no care or anxiety on our part at all. No more than walking across a room. We become a kind of invisible.

As has been well documented, this hubris is reinforced by the way we have designed our cities. More precisely the way planners and engineers have laid out the street and road systems that have in turned designed our cities. Huge investments in public space — city streets — have been allocated almost exclusively to automobiles, the vast majority of which contain a single citizen. Read more: A Stroll Around the World -

Paul Salopek on Twitter: @PaulSalopek 
Out of Eden Walk
Out Of Eden Walk - Dispatches from the Field from Paul Salopek

1 comment:

Dan Appell said...

So far, this has proved to be a very insightful series. Well worth the read.