Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

“In fact, from the first clasped stick and improvised carrier, tools have extended the body’s strength, skill, and reach to a remarkable degree. We live in a world where our hands and feet can direct a ton of metal to go faster than the fastest land animal, where we can speak across thousands of miles, blow holes in things with no muscular exertion but the squeeze of a forefinger. It is the unaugmented body that is rare now, and that body has begun to atrophy as both a muscular and a sensory organism. In the century and a half since the railroad seemed to go too fast to be interesting, perceptions and expectations have sped up, so that many now identify with the speed of the machine and look with frustration or alienation at the speed and ability of the body. The world is no longer on the scale of our bodies, but on that of our machines, and many need—or think they need—the machines to navigate that space quickly enough. Of course, like most “time-saving” technologies, mechanized transit more often produces changed expectations than free time; and modern Americans have significantly less time than they did three decades ago. To put it another way, just as the increased speed of factory production did not decrease working hours, so the increased speed of transportation binds people to more diffuse locales rather than liberating them from travel time (many Californians, for example, now spend three or four hours driving to and from work each day). The decline of walking is about the lack of space in which to walk, but it is also about the lack of time—the disappearance of that musing, unstructured space in which so much thinking, courting, daydreaming, and seeing has transpired. Machines have sped up, and lives have kept pace with them.”

— Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

Image: rpffm58 with speed


  1. The story of a total nightmare. As with Slow Food (coming from Piemonte, Italy, in 1986) a grassroot organization, we will have to learn to ‘un-hurry’ if we want to survive…. In my case, age is certainly helping; you can’t bus through life any longer when everything just takes a bit longer, or you go bust!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Strangely, the return of leisure time has, for me, been one of the ‘gifts’ of this pandemic. With essentially no place I have to be (or frankly should be, aside from tucked in at home), I have thrown myself into leisurely walks all around the neighborhood, finding a joy in the perambulation that I had lost sight of in years past while rushing to and from the gym. Now my gym is a few steps down the hall or out the door. ☺️

    Liked by 3 people

    • “I do not mean to denigrate the users of gyms—I have sometimes been one myself—only to remark on their strangeness. In a world where manual labor has disappeared, the gym is among the most available and efficient compensations. Yet there is something perplexing about this semipublic performance. I used to try to imagine, as I worked out on one or another weight machine, that this motion was rowing, this one pumping water, this one lifting bales or sacks. The everyday acts of the farm had been reprised as empty gestures, for there was no water to pump, no buckets to lift. I am not nostalgic for peasant or farmworker life, but I cannot avoid being struck by how odd it is that we reprise those gestures for other reasons. What exactly is the nature of the transformation in which machines now pump our water but we go to other machines to engage in the act of pumping, not for the sake of water but for the sake of our bodies, bodies theoretically liberated by machine technology? Has something been lost when the relationship between our muscles and our world vanishes, when the water is managed by one machine and the muscles by another in two unconnected processes? The body that used to have the status of a work animal now has the status of a pet: it does not provide real transport, as a horse might have; instead, the body is exercised as one might walk a dog. Thus the body, a recreational rather than utilitarian entity, doesn’t work, but works out. The barbell is only abstracted and quantified materiality to shift around—what used to be a sack of onions or a barrel of beer is now a metal ingot—and the weight machine makes simpler the act of resisting gravity in various directions for the sake of health, beauty, and relaxation. The most perverse of all the devices in the gym is the treadmill (and its steeper cousin, the Stairmaster). Perverse, because I can understand simulating farm labor, since the activities of rural life are not often available—but simulating walking suggests that space itself has disappeared. That is, the weights simulate the objects of work, but the treadmill and Stairmaster simulate the surfaces on which walking takes place. That bodily labor, real or simulated, should be dull and repetitive is one thing; that the multifaceted experience of moving through the world should be made so is another. I remember evenings strolling by Manhattan’s many glass-walled second-floor gyms full of rows of treadmillers looking as though they were trying to leap through the glass to their destruction, saved only by the Sisyphean contraption that keeps them from going anywhere at all—though probably they didn’t see the plummet before them, only their own reflection in the glass.”

      — Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit

      Liked by 5 people

  3. this is so very true, we are not limited by our body’s abilities, and in theory, time should open up for us, but it tends to make us more beholden in time and effort, to appease the machines and fall in place with them. i agree with kiki, we need to learn to ‘unhurry’ again. this virus has forced us to do this, even if it was under duress at the beginning, and i hope that some of these lessons will stick.

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  4. Very interesting piece. Referring to the commute of some Californians… I’ll claim “early adopter” status. Back in the early 1990’s I lived in the Poconos and worked in Philadelphia. The fastest I ever made the trip, one way was 1:52. I spent a minimum of 20 hours a week on my butt in the car, but I loved it. Winters in that part of Pennsylvania made driving even more interesting. That commute forced me to change some things about my life. Maybe a blog post one day?

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  5. I like walking as much as the next person, but I also like other modes of transportation such as cars, trains, and planes. Such advancements give us the ability to learn first hand about other parts of the world. And as for the gym, as a former gym owner, I’m a bit biased. Not everyone has the skill set or desire to work in a physically demanding job, but there is still a need to physically engage our muscles, offering bth physical and mental benefits. I know a gym is not the only way to do that, but for many people, it is the most efficient way of doing so. I personally prefer to work out at home, but many people like the social aspect of going to the gym, or may not have the equipment or knowledge of what to do if left on their own. There have been many fads in the world of fitness, but the basic gym has been around a long-time, and I don’t see it going away, even with the problems caused by COVID-19…

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    • I don’t disagree Jim. But as Rebecca states below, this is real:

      “The parking lot of the hip outdoor equipment store in Berkeley was full of drivers idling their engines and waiting for a parking space, while the streets around were full of such spaces. Shoppers weren’t apparently willing to walk two blocks to buy their outdoor gear (and since then I have noticed that nowadays drivers often wait for a close parking spot rather than walk in from the farther reaches of the lot). People have a kind of mental radius of how far they are willing to go on foot that seems to be shrinking; in defining neighborhoods and shopping districts, planners say it is about a quarter mile, the distance that can be walked in five minutes, but sometimes it hardly seems to be fifty yards from car to building. Of course the people idling their engines at the outdoor equipment store may have been there to buy hiking boots, workout clothes, climbing ropes—equipment for the special circumstances in which people will walk. The body has ceased to be a utilitarian entity for many Americans, but it is still a recreational one, and this means that people have abandoned the everyday spaces—the distance from home to work, stores, friends—but created new recreational sites that are most often reached by car: malls, parks, gyms. Parks, from pleasure gardens to wilderness preserves, have long accommodated bodily recreation, but the gyms that have proliferated wildly in the past couple of decades represent something radically new. If walking is an indicator species, the gym is a kind of wildlife preserve for bodily exertion. A preserve protects species whose habitat is vanishing elsewhere, and the gym (and home gym) accommodates the survival of bodies after the abandonment of the original sites of bodily exertion.”

      — Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (Penguin Books (June 1, 2001)

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    PROGRESS, PROGRESS … really? … ” The decline of walking is about the lack of space in which to walk, but it is also about the lack of time—the disappearance of that musing, unstructured space in which so much thinking, courting, daydreaming, and seeing has transpired. Machines have sped up, and lives have kept pace with them.”
    — Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So the story goes, one of my first sentences was, “don’t run me.”

    I dread the day that I can no longer walk, David. Hope you are doing well!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think one of the most important benefits of this whole Pandammit is how it has given many people the opportunity to slow down… do the slow cooking as Kiki mentioned, take walks and breathe. I wonder how many people will keep some of these new habits once the world returns to some sort of normal?

    Liked by 1 person

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