For a while now I’ve been noticing things that have changed in our society. Like, ever since we invented farming and settled down, those settlements have been built along trade and transport routes. Whether it’s a bridge or a river or a coastal harbour, natural transport nexus points become settlements. Except that in the last twenty or so years, people have wanted to move away from motorways and busy main roads. I think this is really significant because this has been the pattern for thousands of years.
It’s like the law banning the carrying of knives. As a culture in the West (I don’t know about anywhere else) we’ve probably had a knife about our person since mesolithic hunter-gatherers roamed the land with a handy flint in their pocket. And again, over the last few years, this habit that has lasted for thousands of years has changed.
Now, thanks to Wikipedia I can pinpoint when it all started to change. It was the 21st of February 1804. Precisely. The first ever railway journey. From that point onwards, there was a third way for travel. Before then, you had a choice of horse or foot to get about. Even with a decent stage-coach system it would still take two or three days to do London-Edinburgh for example. Once the Victorians got going with trains the journey was five or six hours. And I think this major change precipitated all the other changes.
I’m reading The Suspicions of Mr Wicher… and there’s a lot in there about the development of the police force and the concept of detection. Which was really only necessary because ordinary people could move around at a speed faster than a horse could go. This means that criminals could commute into a community, commit crime and then leave. No longer would you know the identity of everyone who you passed in the street. Which means you couldn’t police your own community.
As for what it all means, or where we go next, I’m really quite undecided. I have a gut feeling that our current culture has maybe gone as far as it can, and we may be on the cusp of a collapse – like the end of the Roman Empire.