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[personal profile] vicarbrench
Cars are wonderful things. Without them, life would be completely different. The mobility afforded to us by cars have allowed us to build towns and cities that would be otherwise impossible. The "convenience" store just around the corner can be ignored in favor of lower prices at a supermarket in the next town. As a result, local towns have less coherence. Proximity of places to shop, hang out, worship, and work has a completely different meaning now. People can commute for many many miles every day now, when without cars only a couple miles was reasonable. It changed our "default" social circle to be no longer our local town, but a more scattered network of coworkers, (former or current) classmates, and friends and acquaintances from the various activities one does. It does open one up to meeting more people and making more friends, but it also has great potential to make one far more lonely.

Think about it, when one's social network is a scattered collection of different groups which often don't overlap, "home" becomes a much more abstract concept. One's own house or apartment is where one sleeps, takes time off, and invites friends over for dinner, but it's also an island. One's immediate geographic neighbors are not necessarily part of one's various social networks, so unless one gets around the local neighborhood the home could be quite isolated.

As an aside, I think this is what makes college a particularly amazing experience for a lot of people these days. Living in dorms among one's fellow classmates fosters an atmosphere of community. This isn't always the case, obviously, especially in terms of having different degree programs, no classes in common, and so on, but when the extra-curricular fields are thrown in, as well as dining halls, and the broader on-or-off-campus social scene, a college campus can be a really close community, much like small towns would have been before the advent of the automobile. (And the difference between colleges with ample housing and commuter colleges I think illustrates the vast change that takes place.)

The same principle of freedom of range increasing alongside loneliness applies to road trips. Think about fantasy stories, historical novels, or any old-timey tale - people travel down roads by foot or by horse or whatever, and they meet people along the way. This is impossible in car. If anything, it's ideal not to meet too many people along the way, lest the traffic prove inhibiting and the journey is slowed. Highway rest stops could potentially be exceptions to this trend, except for the fact that by the time one actually stops to rest at a rest stop, the mindset of being on one's own (or being committed to/stuck with one's passengers) has set in and there's little motivation to socialize with strangers. So even though one is especially isolated, the impulse is to get back into the car and get moving again.

I've tried to describe this as neutrally as possible, because it's very easy to say the old ways are better, and we need to focus on our local communities more. I don't want to sound like a townie, necessarily. Things have changed, and that's not necessarily all bad. Yes the town-focused system of sociality which has endured since, well, towns were first developed, is being torn down. We arelosing something here. So that is bad. But we're also gaining something different - a type of social life which connects us to various different groups which don't necessarily connect. It's a great way to get more exposure to "the world out there" compared to the town-based lifestyle, but it presents some challenges such as difficulty to commit to a deeper more permanent relationship. By this I mean that if these disparate groups are treated as entities which we connect to solely by our own will and whim, then there's hardly any sense of obligation to them, and relationships can only go so far. But if we are able to commit to these disparate groups more wholly, and really grow into them, and through them, then we've gained something potentially as valuable as the town-based system.

Whateverso, it's important to give thought to this sort of thing. If we want to live healthy and fulfilling lives, it's good to be aware of what we're doing to ourselves through our very lifestyles. A lot of habits like drugs, alcohol, smoking, exercising, and reading get a lot of press and attention, but there are also these things that we consider 'social norms' which are actually completely abnormal from an historical perspective which we ought to analyze and consider with equal caution and concern. Where do I go in my car? Where does it "prevent" me from going or what does it "prevent" me from doing? Of course I can go basically wherever I want, but why do I go where I go, and don't go where I don't go?

Food for thought; feast your mind.
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