Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Shortest Distance Between Any Two Points...

"Distances are only the relation of space to time and vary with it. We express the difficulty that we have in getting to a place in a system of miles or kilometers which becomes false as soon as that difficulty decreases."
-Marcel Proust

I'd never heard this quote before. In fact, I don't think I could give you a Proust quote (despite having watched Little Miss Sunshine). It's actually quite brilliant, and having not known a world without cars or planes, not something I've ever given thought to before.

Think about it. From Toronto to Las Vegas, it's over 3,600km, but I always think of it as about 4 1/2 hours. In the same vein, Montreal is 550km away from me, but I think of it as 5 hours. Meanwhile, Oshawa is 45 minutes, my work is 7 minutes or 20 minutes away, depending if I'm going to or coming back from it (subway or walking), but the distance is fixed. Maybe I'm just slow to the party, but I never realized how much we measure distance in terms of time before. At first glance, it makes no sense - If you asked me how tall something was and I gave you an answer in seconds, you'd look at me askew... but if you asked me how far away I was, you'd expect an answer like "5 minutes" not "800 meters".

Naturally, this dovetails nicely with Marshall McLuhan's "Global Village". But where Proust was marvelling at the dawn of the automobile, McLuhan was witnessing the dawn of the media and information age. Thinking of automobiles and the Internet as being similar beasts ties these two concepts into nearly identical thoughts. Las Vegas may be 3,600 km away, or 4.5 hours, but I can fire off a message to someone there in about 2 seconds and have it received instantly. So depending on my intended purpose, Las Vegas can have a zero distance from me. For that matter, Australia is in the same virtual room, let alone village.

This is made even more clear when the quote is finished with its next sentence - "Art is modified by it also, since a village which seemed to be in a different world from some other village becomes its neighbor in a landscape whose dimensions are altered."

I really have no destination in mind for this post, but the Proust quote got some wheels turning, so to speak.

*Addendum - it strikes me that Kat just went to Alaska, which was a one month round trip for her, but would be around an 18 hour round trip for me, which has nothing to do with the 20 minute distance between our homes.

This all came from this article on traffic engineer Hans Monderman. It's a great read.


VinNay said...

I just realized that God backwards spells Dog. Let the pot high wear off before posting....jk. Interesting quote and post.

Astin said...

Man, you need better pot if you just realized that. The part that will blow your mind is that Satan and Santa are anagrams of one another! Also, they both dress in red and have diminuative helpers... woah!