I measure distance with travel time. Not by fixed the impersonality of metres and kilometres. My perception of distance is fluid. Stretching and shrinking based on where I am, where I am going, how I’m going, when I travel, the parking or available transport, . So my idea of the “distance” from Colombo Fort to Batteramulla will increase at 5pm on a Wednesday and shrink by 5am on a Sunday.
The years have convinced me that time is the only “valid” measure of space. Because travel time dictates the opportunities and constraints in your life. It maps what you can do within the prison cell of the day’s commitments. Thus travel time is a short hand for conditions on the ground. Which maps how those conditions impact the quality of your life.
Life in the era I write (the later middle part of the early 21st century) is about getting more done in the same finite measure of time. Digital technology chains us to this push with a myriad of tools and processes. They all aim to make distance meaningless by the instant transmission of many aspects of our lives.
Yet the physical elements of our lives are still stuck in traffic. All it takes is one traffic incident – a protest march, an accident, too much rain – and your digitally organised day falls apart. Even the “normal” traffic adds an excessive time cost to travel what are seem like short physical distances.
A passenger with a decent data connection could do a lot while stuck in traffic. Yet is helpless when things require your physical presence at a specific place at an appointed time. A frequent requirement in Sri Lanka where digital interaction is a delusion of reliability. A tiny elite can have a virtual office. For the rest, at best it is the “office van”.
Thus the commute and the deserts of extended travel time. Crawling in rush hour traffic drains the life force out of anyone. By getting cooked in packed buses and trains. Or by the crippling psychological effect of feeling trapped in a vehicle. Life as a journey is a nice metaphor. But an evil joke during the commute.
But we already know this. Most of us have accepted it as a part of the friction of living in the world. For a majority, there are few if any alternatives. Some of us try to life hack some relief. Secret Colombo Short Cuts is one. Evaluating travel commitments by time rather than distance is another.
Something to think about when you have recovered from your post Vesak hangovers.