(Continued from "Boston on Foot.")
Our increased ability to reach distant places more quickly hasn’t only changed how we travel though. It’s changed how and where we live. Living 40 miles from work made no sense even 50 years ago. Instead employees chose to live and work in closer proximity—probably requiring less time to commute as well. Likewise, they shopped at nearby stores, worshiped in nearby churches, and spent time with nearby friends.
In my own life, I’ve chosen to live some 200+ miles from family and even more from friends because I know I can cover that distance in my car quite in just a few hours. But despite this capability, I am still separated from them by a significant distance. I’ve chosen that distance because I’m able to close it if and when I choose, but that distance still disconnects me from them. And in reality my range of life defaults to what’s nearby and eventually disconnects me from those farther away, no matter what I could do in theory.
In my social psychology class in college, we learned that “proximity breeds liking.” It is still true. This past year a few friends moved in to our apartment building. These were the friends I went to Boston with. Had it been others who’d moved in, our roadtrip might’ve included those people instead. I’ve become closer with them emotionally because I’m closer to them in proximity. Indeed, my closest friends over the past ten years have always been those I’m living with. Maybe that’s partly my nature, but we can’t like those we don’t know or don’t see.
The proportions of proximity do change with technology. The person I call my neighbor may not live across the hall or down the street anymore (even Jesus recognized that). Being aware of this reality is important, even if we choose to live according to these new proportions.
Twice a week I carpool with a colleague from work. Last fall there was a mid-afternoon thunderstorm that knocked out power to most of the traffic lights on our route. Our normal 25-minute commute took more than an hour. As we crawled along, we noticed all sorts of scenes and features that we’d never noticed whizzing past—a trail into the woods, a sign, a house, a store.
Sometimes I wonder if life is meant to be taken in at the pace of our legs. The faster we travel, the farther ahead we cast our eyes. On my feet, stopping to smell the roses wouldn’t cause a traffic jam. In my car, I may miss the roses altogether. And the only scents I notice are diesel exhaust fumes, burning oil, and the occasional skunk.