Pedestrian. It just means “walking, on foot,” yet the very word evokes images of peasants unable to afford anything but a pair of shoes, people who represent an obstacle to the flow of vehicular traffic, lives and things that are hum-drum, everyday, boring.
It is just these things that are the most normal, usual, that take the most effort to discover – and thus, it is no wonder that it took until the 19th/20th century for the “discovery” (or is that an invention?) of the flaneur, the person who walks just to be seen walking and to enjoy the walk through the city.
The means to be able to afford a leisurely stroll had to be gained first, and asked to be shown. Of course, walking – albeit of a more necessary nature – had been around ever since human beings became walking beings. In fact, it is by upright walking that our species became what it is. Looking for food. On the hunt. Into the forest for firewood. And then, there were migrations, treks, pilgrimages, the waltz that formed an essential part of apprenticeship, trade, the walk to markets, and to school.
Now, though, we drive and fly.
We live far from the places where we learn and work, travel far and wide to enjoy unspoiled nature, relaxing environments, and authentic culture, pre-packaged for convenient consumption, and rush through the places that surround us. The world has become small, supposedly – but we keep “moving” when we are really just being moved, locked into metal tubes of one shape or another, whisking us this way and that. In the process, we do never even gain a knowledge and feeling of where we are. The mental map of the places we say we go is not a network radiating out from a home at the center of a life, it is a disjointed series of journeys by car and plane. If that. Our experience of space is warped, and there is no weft holding it all together.
You come “at home in” the place you live, and in this world, when you measure it in your steps, move through it at your own pace, experience it because you really are there. Seeing what surrounds you, feeling the sun and the wind – or even the rain and sleet and snow, smelling the flowers and the exhaust, hearing the silences and the ruckus.
To learn more, to aid in finding your way, to get together with others, digital connected technology can serve its purpose; knowing more about body and place by heart rate and GPS track is fascinating and helpful – but such tools have to be put in their place, too. Tools are for their users to handle them well, to know when they are needed and appropriate, not to relegate power to them and forego experience and growing knowledge simply because they exist.
Put that phone into your pocket, unplug from the headphones, open your eyes, and start walking. You’ll see, the earth is not small when you walk on it, and adventure awaits around the corner.