Some college lectures are more memorable than others. One, given by a graduate school professor stands out. I struggled with this fellow’s heavily accented English, but on this day his message was so compelling that I barely noticed his speech pattern. It was a simple concept, that of building a road. He began by noting that among the simple societies in the world, the concept of roads is relatively foreign. Villages exist where resources exist and continue there until the resources run out, then the group moves on. Change is mediated by the seasons and the groups use of the existing flora and fauna for survival.
Build a road between two such villages and all kinds of things happen. The first is trade, regular means of exchanging not only goods and services, but also, and this is far more important, ideas. Ideas that had no place to grow within the context of the culture of a single village can flourish in such an environment. Of course such an exchange is fraught with danger, too. Cultures will modify to accommodate the exchanges of goods, services and ideas. Long isolated people may find that the pathogens, biologic and otherwise, that were of little consequence to one group prove to be deadly to the other.
Roads have always been big business for societies. The Mayans built excellent raised bed roads throughout the Yucatan area. I’ve ridden on the Incan highway in Ecuador and most recently on roads built by Romans a thousand years ago. Roads mean wealth and control. They also mean passageways for conflict and disease.
Without roads? Stagnation, a kind of incestuous rehash of old ways that may not be useful any more but continue simply because of a kind of cultural inertia. Then again, just because something is time worn, doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful.
A road brings contrast, competition and challenges that can sort through the old and new to find those things that are the most useful. Or not.
How often do we chase after the newest shiny thing, forgetting that which served us well for so long a time?
The road, however perceived, always challenges all of the stops along the way, creating a lively and sometimes confusing mix of old, new and emerging options.
All very intellectual with real world implications for ordinary bystanders such as me.
I am sitting in what will always be, Ben’s room, a tiny 10 by 12 foot space that seemed adequate for a growing boy. It is cluttered with the detritus of my “office” life. Birthday cards in the making, income tax information and files, half finished crocheting projects, books, etc. Central to it all is this computer on which I write and my adoption of technology beyond what I once knew.. It’s my road.
So much of the life I live now is different from the life I lived before because of the roads that I’ve traveled. How I negotiate with the hours in a day has been modified greatly by the ideas and technology that I’ve learned about and eagerly if not expertly adopted.
Who I know, what I know about the world, about other cultures, religions, technology, etc. is, from the point of my college self, astoundingly different. Then I read about the indigenous people of the Amazon. Today I can watch an interview with members of those groups.
I have a telephone that is basically the same as my computer. I does everything that my computer does and it takes pictures, can voice guide me to a far destination, can light up the night as a flashlight and, yes, make and receive voice and picture communications.
Outside of Dick Tracy’s wrist radio, what did I know of devices like my phone then?
Am I confused by the traffic on these roads? You bet. There is so much that is new, changing so fast that you hang on with your fingernails. I once stored my columns on something calls floppy discs. Now, I can’t read those columns because the computers on which they were made no longer exist. Even CD’s and DVD’s are becoming dinosaurs, giving way to storage in something called the cloud. …much like the cloud in my head.
I miss being competent! When things change so fast, when there is so much information coming at you like the stars you see in the windows as the Millennium Falcon drops into hyperspace….you are always at the beginning of the learning curve.(did you appreciate that reference to Star Wars, which, by the way, premiered … are you seated? May, 1977!)
I am still wrestling with learning how to manipulate spread sheets, taking a screen shot, using my phone as an appointment book …the list goes on.
As for taking pictures? Sad! I have a collection of pictures of my feet, my finger and many, many multiples of the same photo because I have not made the time to learn how to use this feature on my phone. Really sad.
Today my computer told me that I needed to know what my birth flower was, how to do lymphatic drainage message, several recipes for something called an instant pot, new discoveries at Gobekli Tepe, whether Neandertal people were more attractive than portrayed, what Congressional committee is subpoenaing who? There is a You tube video telling me that Alex Trebeck is ill, that someone named R Kelly is in custody. On and on. …. TMI for someone who is has FOMO (Too much information for someone who has Fear Of Missing Out)
Adding to all of this are the changes to income tax.
On some days, I need my GPS to be in permanent recalculating mode or even better I need to set out a sign that says simply….Road Out: Landslide ahead!