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Travel Makes You Stupid.
December 10, 2001 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Travel Makes You Stupid. "As we roam wider, we spread ourselves thinner. The greater the geographical extent of our 'known world' the lower the level of resolution at which we can know it. As the volume of information overwhelms the human capacity to make sense of it, people are compelled to adopt ever cruder filters." Does hypermobility make us more shallow? (from openDemocracy)
posted by jacknose (21 comments total)

 
I cannot think of anyone more shallow than the losers at my high school reunion who, after 25 years since graduating, still live in my home town.
posted by mischief at 9:40 AM on December 10, 2001


Travel Makes You Stupid.

Then I'm thick as two short planks.
posted by davehat at 9:41 AM on December 10, 2001


If you stay in the same town your whole life, you will know ALL about it. But you won't know much else.
posted by computerface at 9:47 AM on December 10, 2001


this doesn't make sense. it would seem to me that the more you travel the greater your experiences and the better your perspective on the world.
posted by suprfli at 9:55 AM on December 10, 2001


I'm sorry, but that is a very poor argument. He presents no evidence, puts forward no real justification for what he says, and his statement is almost by definition illogical.

Why is this link even being discussed?

Here's my statement, just as worthwhile.

School makes you stupid. They fill you with lots of information that you don't need that 'overwhelms the human capacity to make sense of it.' Same goes for university, work and metafilter.
posted by RobertLoch at 9:57 AM on December 10, 2001


I didn't get "travel makes you stupid" from this essay. I think the author is suggesting that hypermobility has increasingly isolated us from each other, which is not exactly a new notion. Technology was supposed to make our lives and workloads easier, but in large part it has only increased the amount of work we are expected to do in the same amount of time (though I'll take it over digging ditches).

Granted, the more one travels, the less time one has to dedicate to a single geographical area. I don't think this makes one stupid. The more one knows about the cultures and peoples of te world, the larger the base of knowledge one has to compare and contrast them with each other. This is true of any discipline: if I study music, I want to familiarize myself with many forms the better to understand "MUSIC" as a force.
posted by Ty Webb at 9:59 AM on December 10, 2001


This is a perfect example of taking a relatively sound argument (You can't take in 6000 things as easily as 1 thing) and then forcing it to a completely wrong conclusion.
posted by jragon at 10:02 AM on December 10, 2001


Travel doesn't make you stupid. Travel doesn't make you smart.

Having a great deal of "experiences" will wise up some folks and confuse and mislead others. (I'm not sure I buy into the notion that experiences only happen to people when they are away from their hometowns.)

In the end, it depends on the person. For instance, I have read very good books by writers who were world-traveled and politically sophisticated. I've also read wonderful books by folks who preferred to spend a lot of time alone or within 50 miles of their birthplace.

For every outwardly engaged writer like, say, a Walt Whitman or an Ernest Hemingway, you also have an inwardly focused writer like an Emily Dickinson or a William Falukner. I'm not sure it's useful to get into a pissing match as to which type of person is stupid.

On a personal note, my undergrad university had many student exchange programs in Europe and Asia. Some of the students in the programs came back to the States with a lot of interesting thoughts. Some came back with new sandals. Again, depends on the person.
posted by bilco at 10:13 AM on December 10, 2001


While I highly recommend everybody setting out to travel for an extended period at least once in their life, it's really entirely up to an individual person and how they approach life. Some people are born to travel, others are not. Will they see the edited highlights, collecting endless photos to fill up a scrapbook just to show others that they have been to another place, or will they actually sink their teeth into the lands they are visiting, talking with the people and opening up their eyes to wholly different sociological and cultural approaches? Some people are suited for a journey somewhere exotic. Still others are content to live within the status quo. It is said that Shakespeare never set foot out of England. While his plays are littered with historical inaccuracies and nonsensical geography foofaws, does this irreparably taint his contribution to literature? Not at all.
posted by ed at 10:34 AM on December 10, 2001


Ty, bilco, and ed, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. "Travel Makes You Stupid" is the title that openDemocracy used on its front page. I think it is a bit misleading, but one should not judge an essay by its title. I happen to love to travel and believe it has broadened my perspective quite a bit. As well, it has allowed me to contextualize information that floats around in my head as words and images without a home. Of course just having a broader perspective doesn't necessarily make me wiser or more knowledgeable. I think the issue in this essay is not travelling, per se, but hypermobility. It is the difference between those who like to go to twenty cities in twenty days and those who would rather spend twenty days in one location. I prefer the latter. (How about you?) I think there is something to be said about staying in one place--about not always equating movement with greater depth and experience.
posted by jacknose at 10:44 AM on December 10, 2001


The Saw Doctors are a rock group from Tuam, Co. Galway, Ireland. When they were just starting to get well known they were asked if touring and seeing the big world would change them. Their answer was that no, after Tuam (pop couple of thousand) there was nothing, that all human life was to be found there. Very profound or very tongue in cheek. Funnily enough, one of their members later won 1 million pounds in the Irish National Lottery and dropped out. They still tour a lot, but I hear they still live in Tuam (artists not paying tax in Ireland).
posted by Zootoon at 10:50 AM on December 10, 2001


Travel doesn't make you stupid. But it makes you sound stupid. Ever since I began moving in upper middle class circles, I discovered that the number one topic of conversation is travel: Where you've been, where you stayed, where you ate. Or worse, what you paid for your airline tickets. I've sat at dinner parties and listened to bozos who have travelled to some of the most remarkable places on earth, and who have nothing more interesting to talk about than the inconvenience of their accommodations, the length of the plane ride, or the amusing personality of their guide. I spoke to a man last week who'd just gotten back from a week in Africa. The most interesting anecdote he brought back was about a woman who had supposedly traveled the same river as he did the month before, who had gotten her head bitten off by a hippo. And that was probably apocryphal.
posted by Faze at 11:38 AM on December 10, 2001


This letter strikes me as an example of neo-ludditeism at its best. I grew up in Brooklyn,NY with lots of people who believed they knew everything about the locale they lived in. Generally they were mentally rigid people who made xenophobia their religion.

The most interesting, and versatile people I know, are those that have moved around at least several times. Changing locations, particularly dramatic changes, forces you to think in new ways. I've learned this firsthand having moved from urban NYC to a country house in rural CA.
posted by EmergencyPenguin at 11:46 AM on December 10, 2001


"Travel Makes You Stupid" is the title that openDemocracy used on its front page. I think it is a bit misleading, but one should not judge an essay by its title.

You're right, of course. I'm not so much responding to the article (which I enjoyed -- thanks for the link) as I was the initial drift of the MeFi thread.

It is the difference between those who like to go to twenty cities in twenty days and those who would rather spend twenty days in one location. I prefer the latter. (How about you?)

Yup, me too.
posted by bilco at 11:58 AM on December 10, 2001


This letter strikes me as an example of neo-ludditeism at its best. I grew up in Brooklyn,NY with lots of people who believed they knew everything about the locale they lived in. Generally they were mentally rigid people who made xenophobia their religion.

The most interesting, and versatile people I know, are those that have moved around at least several times. Changing locations, particularly dramatic changes, forces you to think in new ways. I've learned this firsthand having moved from urban NYC to a country house in rural CA.
posted by EmergencyPenguin at 11:46 AM PST on December 10

Just thought I'd do a bit of housekeeping and shift the above comment over from the deletable thread since this is were the debate is raging ...
posted by feelinglistless at 12:13 PM on December 10, 2001


Met a woman a couple of years ago, landlord of a friend, in her late '40s, who had traveled to every continent. At a dinner party, she starts going off about her fear of a One World Government, and plans being made for it already, and the UN and blah blah. Incredibly ugly stuff. Sounds like I just made that up off the top of my head, but the incident really happened. Traveling is only enlightening, it seems to me, if one's mind is open and you're not treating it as a strictly consumerist/tourism exercise or class thing.
posted by raysmj at 12:25 PM on December 10, 2001


bilco, my comments were not directed toward you. I appreciated your insight. I agree that the person ultimately makes the difference.
posted by jacknose at 1:29 PM on December 10, 2001


As Bilco said, what you get out of travelling depends on you. Most people really, really want to think their home nation is superior, and although travelling can force you to think again, more often people just fix onto the stuff they think proves home is better. Travel as enlightenment is overstated I think. People who travel extensively know a lot about the world, but they aren't necessarily broad minded. My mum's history teacher, who travelled a lot in the army, used to tell his class that wops started at Calais.
posted by Summer at 1:43 PM on December 10, 2001


Am I the only one here who thought that essay was about urban planning and the alienation that can result from it if poorly done? This discussion seems based around some other piece of writing.
posted by mrbula at 2:05 PM on December 10, 2001


I would be hesitant to conclude that the essay is explicitly about urban planning (although the idea of the essay could certainly be applied to urban planning). I think it is about the idea of progress, especially as it relates to mobility or conquering space and time. In this regard, it really has very little to do with traveling in the traditional sense (again, the title is a bit misleading; in retrospect, I should have given it my own title). Nonetheless, I think the general response in this thread, whether people have actually read the essay or not, centers on this common notion that we have with travel/mobility and enlightenment. Mobility is equated with progress and knowledge. While this may have been true in the past, we have entered an era of hypermobility. In this state, we must reconsider the idea of mobility equaling progress. Indeed, it seems that slowness (e.g., slow cities) is becoming the new sign of depth and substance: an interesting turn of events. While the essay itself is lacking (IMHO), I find its idea provocative. Of course, I could also be reading too much into it.
posted by jacknose at 3:57 PM on December 10, 2001


Travel made me sexy! See?

*poses*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:20 AM on December 11, 2001


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