Last year I was happy to join a panel at Cheltenham Literature Festival, talking about Interstate, the nature of the country you find at the US roadside, and how that reality makes a lot of recent American politics seem a whole lot less surprising than much commentary suggests.
My books all involve journeys, and although the mode of travel might have gone from bicycles to hitchhiking, briefly to boats, and now – I think – will soon be returning back to bicycles, all these means of getting from A to B have in common the fact that they are alternative.
I did a talk recently for staff at Google, developing a few ideas about the similarities between travel and the internet. The world is an endless sprawl of knowledge and fact and curiosity, and by travel we pick our way through it. The internet is an endless sprawl of knowledge and fact and curiosity, and by search engine and social media account, we pick our way through it.
As people talk more about polarisation in politics and society, as people lament lost arts like conversation and trust, I find myself wondering if getting on a search engine – Just Google it! – is a bit of a cyber equivalent to the richness of experience I’ve always felt was being missed when the world is viewed through the screen of a car, or only from hub-to-hub of airport terminal.
Sure, there’s always a case to be made for convenience, but if human society relies on us having human connections, perhaps we need to figure out ways of nurturing them a bit better.
The talk was in London, and drew largely on stories from my book, Interstate, but I moved on to discuss journeys by bicycle, and the differences between cycling and hitchhiking across the United States.
Hope you enjoy the talk and that it provokes some thoughts.