Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PLACES: The New Nomads

Every Friday afternoon at 4:30, a tall, greying Wall Street executive Bruce Robe stuffs a mass of papers into his black leather briefcase, takes his coat off the rack out-side his office, and departs. The routine has been the same for more than three years. First, he rides the elevator twenty-nine floors down to street level. Next he strides for ten minutes through crowded streets to the Wall Street Heliport. There he boards a Helicopter which deposits him, eight minutes later, at John F. Kennedy Airport. Transferring to a Trans-World Airlines jet, he settles down for supper, as the giant aircraft swings over the Atlantic, then banks and heads west. One hour and ten minutes later, barring delay, he steps briskly out of the terminal building at the airport in Columbus, Ohio, and enters a waiting automobile. In thirty more minutes he reaches destination: he is home. Four nights a week Robe lives in a hotel in Manhattan. The other three he spends with his wife and children in Columbus 500 miles away. Claiming the best of two worlds, a job in the frenetic financial centre of America and a family life in the comparatively tranquil Midwest countryside, he shuttles back and forth some 50,000 miles a year. The Robe case is unusual - but not that unusual. In California, ranch owners fly as much as 120 miles every morning from their homes on the Pacific Coast or in the San Bernardino Valley to visit their ranches in the Imperial Valley, and then fly back home again at night. One Pennsylvania teenager, son of a peripatetic engineer, jets regularly to an orthodonotist in Frankfurt, Germany. A University of Chicago philosopher, Dr Richard McKeon, commuted 1,000 miles each way once for the entire semister in order to teach a series of classes at the New School for Social Research in New York. A young San Fransciscoan and his girlfried in Honolulu see each other every weekend, taking turns at crossing 2,000 miles of Pacific Ocean. And at least one New England matron reqularaly swoops down on New York to visit her hairdresser. Never in history has distance meant less. Never have man's relationships with place been more numerous, fragile and temporary. Throughout the advanced technological societies, and particularly among those I have characterized as 'the people of the future', commuting, travelling, and regularly relocating one's family and become second nature. Figuratively, we 'use up' places and dispose them in much the same way that we dispose of Kleenex or beer cans. We are witnessing a historic decline in the significance of place to human life. We are breeding a new race of nomads, and few suspect quite how massive, widespread and significiant their migrations are.

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