The World Is Getting Smaller: A Reflection on Locality

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” – Wendell Berry

We hear the claim “the world is getting smaller” all the time. In several ways, this appears to be true.

  • Transportation: With cars and planes we now move over vast distances in short periods of time.
  • Digital Technology: Because of social media we are now able to enjoy dialogue and experience community over vast distances. Indeed, this undermines any sense of location to begin with.
  • Structures of Abstraction: There is a great homogeneity to the structures and the systems we construct. Every town in the U.S. is likely to have many of the same stores, with the same branding and the image, and all of the products in those stores are likely near identical as well. As has been famously explored by books documentaries such as Food, Inc. Food is fundamentally dislocated from place and season. An undermining of the local occurs, because all localities are identical.

But at the end of the day, the truth is that the world is not getting smaller, we are just using less of it. In the same way that we only use 57% of the pork we slaughter, so much of the world is simply overlooked.  From civilization’s perspective, it appears to have disappeared.

Modern society is a spider web of cement islands, but between these islands is an overlooked dimension of in-between places. If you have ever taken the time to peer out of the portholes of an airplane en route to another capital of concrete, you have seen it there. The same thing is likely true of the space between where you are sitting reading this now and the grocery store. Next time you take a drive, zone in to the places you never see. Modern culture has not made the world smaller. It has made it easier to overlook the local.

On the one hand, these in-between places that we do not experience offer an untapped practical potential. Agriculture is a good example of this. But aside from their practical benefit, they wait to be appreciated and seen by the attentive. Are we looking?

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– PDC

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