James Kunstler wrote a book not long ago called, The Geography of Nowhere. His premise was that as all parts of the U.S. and elsewhere get bought out and paved over, the ubiquitous sameness robs us of who we are (or were).
I think Kunstler is a good writer, although I’ve made a departure from his prepossessions about the world, as only he can know it. Limiting my exposure to cranks (takes one to know one, eh?) helps me remain somewhat sane in an increasingly insane world. While the argument can certainly be made that there is “nothing new under the sun,” the increasing speed at which everything moves—information, commerce technology and its plethora of “must have” gadgets—makes the time during which we live like no other. Men (and women) much smarter than me have predicted that this may ultimately cause our world of smoke and mirrors to collapse.
Getting back to geography, however. Place defines us. It is a rare human being that doesn’t long for some place, or places, usually tied to some pleasant memory, or memories that occurred in that place, rooted in time. While life moves at breakneck speed, interview anyone about their past and you’ll find them falling backwards into nostalgia, as they rhapsodize about the ball field where they hit their first home run, the soda fountain where they met their future wife, or even the shopping mall where a young girl bought some special dress, for some occasion, often rooted in tradition.
Much of my own writing is tied to the memories that are rooted in the geography of a town called Lisbon Falls, located on the banks of the Androscoggin River. The working class men and women that I had the pleasure to get to know, as I brought them their afternoon paper and later the Maine Sunday Telegram, taught me a lot about honesty, integrity and what it means to love the place where you live. I often say, only half jokingly that the story that became When Towns Had Teams really began when I was nine, with my first paper route.
I'm very fortunate that I grew up in one of the last great eras to be a kid and as a consequence, I can draw upon experiences and people, rooted in a specific place and time. Younger Americans, people my son’s age, or younger, may not be able to find the same deep and abiding connection that I have, with a special place.
As our unique and special places get bulldozed over, or maybe even worse, go out of business due to being unable to compete with the local big box store, we are defined less and less by these places that possess an almost sacred quality. I posit that this is not a good thing, although I'm sure persuasive arguments can be made that I'm once more being overly nostalgic.
It's quite possible that the explosion of social networking sites, like MySpace, or Facebook, or even Second Life, are filling the void, irrespective of geography. Maybe the need that 20-somethings have to create profiles and create personas in cyberspace are due to some inherent need that people have for a familiar place that they can own as their own. The beauty of favorite places is that they can be all our own, even while thousands, or tens of thousands of others are experiencing their own special memory and creating a place in their mind to go back to. Fenway Park and the Red Sox might be one of those shared places. This helps connect us collectively, in a way that the internet and social networking sites can’t do.
Obviously, I’m passionate and intrigued by this topic, as I continue to find the need to write about people and the importance of place for them, as well as for all of us, in order for society to remain connected in a healthy and meaningful ways.