I wrote most of my last post while flying from San Francisco to Chicago. Flipping through the airline magazine, the essay by Gerard J. Arpey, “The world is a book” caught my eye. It’s from St. Augustine: “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” That seemed to be the message of Stilgoe’s Outside lies magic.
But on reading the essay, I encountered another quote that seemed hugely at odds with my own experience at the time. It’s from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Wind, sand, and stars, writing about airplanes:
The central struggle of men has ever been to understand one another, to join together for the common weal. And it is this very thing that the machine helps them to do! It begins by annihilating time and space.
Yes, the machine, the airplane, was annihilating time and space, but it was doing so by destroying my connection to the world around me. Instead of seeing more deeply as Stilgoe recommends, I found myself seeking ways to ignore the drone of the engines and the constant pressure on my knees from the seat in front of me. Saint-Exupery’s means for promoting our common humanity has become a factory ship processing fish.