I was laying in my bed at 5:00 AM (when most people should be in bed) and my brain started reviewing the images of the roads I commute on. I began to think of how such a complex road system would be entirely unnecessary if we were not able to travel at the average speed of today’s normal commute. Consider this a stream of semi-consciousness about the impact that our speed of movement has on the kind of life that each of us lives.
Let’s place the year 1889 as the baseline of a slower lifestyle. I choose that year because it predates the advent of the car, it is late enough that we had the ability to move faster than horse and wagon with the use of railroads, and it’s 120 years ago – a nice round number.
In 1889 most travel was done by horse or on foot. As I recall traveling 30 miles in a day was generally about as far as a person could expect to go. In the late 1870’s the Transcontinental Express was able to average about 35 miles per hour traveling across the country. That would appear to be the functional limit of traveling speed for that time.
Today people regularly travel 70 miles per hour on their daily commute (outside of rush hour) only because we have created an artificial speed limit of 65 mph on our roads – without that speed limit most vehicles could easily travel at 90 mph.
For the sake of simplification let’s consider the differences that we would see if we were to limit our physical traveling of people to 5 mph (a fast walk) with a limit of 30 miles per day, as compared to today when I can comfortably make a trip of 600 miles in a long day and regularly commute 20 miles each way to work.
In our modern situation the only real limitation on where I work (physically) is how much time I am willing to commute – I can choose to live 50 miles or more from my place of employment so long as I am willing to take the time to commute. In the slower lifestyle if we assume that I am willing and able to spend 6 hours of my day commuting in addition to the 8 hours I need to work then I could work as much as 15 miles from home.
From a community standpoint I could not reasonably interact with anyone outside a 7 mile radius on a reagular basis in the slower community whereas in the modern-speed community I could with no more effort interact with people anywhere in a 100 mile radius. If we had an even population density over that whole area that would mean that I have access to 204 times as many people on a daily basis. If we assume that there really is a limit on how many people I can know well then there I can really only know ½ of 1% of the available information about those I can interact with on a daily basis compared to the slower society
I am really not trying to suggest that our society has gone all downhill since some utopian point in our past, but I do like to think about the real results of what we think of as progress. As I was looking around (on the internet – there’s a new kind of speed there) I discovered an entry in Wikipedia on car culture that focuses on cars and addresses this same mindset of “what has really changed with this progress.”
What are your thoughts on the effect of rushing about in our society?