6 hours by car

Time to travel back to the city, sort out of a few things and then back to London. The trip back to Stockholm is 6 hours by car. I used to dread that, but have come to quite like the opportunity to think, listen to music and audiobooks as well as watch the landscape change from winter and snow to grey and rainy. The temperature here, in Storhogna, is -19 degrees Celsius. It is supposed to be +3 degrees in Stockholm.

A trip like this would not have been possible – in the alloted time – just 100 years ago. The cars, infrastructure and safety required simply did not exist – and so we are now travelling in ways that are new. How does that affect us? That is possible to travel within a day such distances? The case gets even more interesting when we speak of air travel – since 6 hours by air will get me all the way to, say, Dubai. It seems that it should change the way we think and perceive the world.

The most common guess is that it shrinks the world. That we perceive the world to be smaller, because it has become more accessible. There is some truth to this, but what we perceive to be smaller is not the world, it is a set of fragments that we can travel through. The world is what exists in between our destinations, and it does not shrink as much as gets compressed. The world becomes more compact, not smaller, and certain points become bigger, the destinations grow and become larger and the in-between is compressed to spaces we transition.

We can imagine the world a bit like a novel, and our mode of travel abbreviates it. It can be accessed faster, at a lower resolution and with a lot cut out – and only a main plot remains.

That is another possibility: that our mode of travel reduces the world to a smaller set of narratives that condenses the human story into a story about the main destinations. The ski resort and the capital are the protagonists of this story, and everything in between is obscured and cut out.

Our mode of travel, then, edits the world into a shorter story.

I don’t think this is bad, in itself. But it suggests that there should be other modes of travel that either are more like wandering – without destinations – or much more destination dense. Travel on foot, perhaps. Was it Walter Benjamin who made the point that just reading a text is like flying across it, and that if you really want to understand it you should translate it? That translating the text is like traveling across it on foot? I seem to remember a phrase like that, and if it is not true – well, then it still is interesting to think about what it would look like to travel in a way that is more like translating the distance into understanding, rather than abbreviate it.

Travel as translation, abbreviation, editing. And then of course the notion of different kinds of travel. Benjamin, again, comes to mind – his last journey, running from evil, but ultimately ending his life. The reason for our travel transforms it from mere transport – into pilgrimage, escapes, journeys, tourism or expeditions.

Why we travel and how we travel speaks volumes of us as a civilization.

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