OUR NOMADIC FUTURE
Perhaps the most genius travel writer of all time – and astute anthropologist - Bruce Chatwin, tried all his life to create a compelling theory of nomadism to what he phrased “the Anatomy of Restlessness”. His point was that the rapid movement from open fields to cities has caused people terrible pain of staying still, while our genetic system and thus our mental models still tick for times we moved constantly from one place to another in looking for new pastures or searching for new hunts. This is why we who are tied into living in cities, having fixed flats as our homes and routines that confine us to a rather small circles, have every now and then the curious feeling of living the prison and –subsequently – feel ourselves restless without really knowing why. Chatwin himself felt certainly this urge to walk about and let his spirit free by roaming around the world. Though Chatwin was never really able to complete his thesis before his premature death in 1989, he wrestled in almost all of his writings on this idea in one way or another. Nowhere is this better visible than in the brilliant collection of essays titled in a suggestive way “What am I doing here” .
Now what’s this got to do with future? Everything.
This running decade marks the first full decade when more people leave in the cities than in the countryside. So, from Chatwin’s point of view, we are making increasing constraints to ourselves. Cities of tomorrow will embody people in massive scale and unless we somehow make sure that city design takes care of this innate restlessness we are shooting into troubles. In practice, it means open green spaces (Chatwin thought that people in the countryside are less prone to the restlessness due to availability of open space) and logistical design that cater for people’s willingness to move about (bicycle, walking lanes etc) and thus make the feel that they are – even in small scale – “on the road”.
It is also known that as living standards increase, people tend to invest more and more of their money into travelling, which please their appetite to gather new experiences. As this ancient call for seeing new places is due to our nomadic instinct ingrained into our genes, it is not to wither away in the near or far future.
This may have even some practical implications. For Finland, I feel, there is a great opportunity here as we should see the increasing number of our future inflow of people and money having to do with attractive infrastructures for “nomadic tourism”, meaning more advanced services for people looking for travel experiences. Here we certainly have not used but only friction of our true capacity.
Eventually, we should not constrain ourselves with physical move. People’s innate keenness for new inventions and innovations may also be interpreted as following the same nomadic instinct. Nowhere is this more visible than in little kids and their endless willingness to play: playing also soothes the crave for movement. Furthermore: look how little kids can be best calmed down: it is by taking them for a ride with movement, which resembles the archetypal experience of being carried in the back of the mother in the times of nomadic culture.
People’s search for new experience and discoveries could thus be found thier logical origin. It is my experience that for human being, the greatest regrets for not doing things in their lives have quite often to do with not following their instincts to move and explore new things.
And it is no accident that I happen to write this far away from my hometown Helsinki, in San Francisco.