We have grown used, in the 20th century, to a society where people moved, increasingly, to things. Technology is beginning to allow a new framework, and the pandemic may now propel into existence – a society where it becomes more normal for things to move to people.
At the start of the 20th century, people didn’t move around much.
Although bus routes started to appear in 1900, the buses were pulled by horses. The pace of life was slow for most of us. ‘Fast’ meant galloping.
By 1903 there was a national speed limit in the UK; 20 miles an hour for the few thousand cars then in the country. Over the century, we grew used to a society where people moved, increasingly, to get to things. By the 1950’s and 1960’s, society was becoming defined by freedom of movement. By the end of the 20th century, travel had ceased just to be a means to an end, and for many had become an end in itself. Holiday travel was born.
Regular travel, though, had become more of a burden. The distance people travelled to work had quadrupled over the century, and the time spent commuting had doubled. Congestion in cities has led us to an environmental and health crisis.
Today, technology is creating new options. So too is the corona virus. Instead of people travelling to things, things are travelling to people – both physically and virtually. While unsettling at first, this will become the new normal, and could well be better for us and for the environment.
We already see technology delivering both large commercial benefits and significant environmental improvements.
Perhaps now, while the pace of change accelerates, we can learn to enjoy a more natural human pace, as well. It doesn’t look like we will simply bounce back to our former ‘go-go’ existence anytime soon, and we may begin to appreciate living in a ‘slower-people, faster-things world’.
It would be less damaging for the planet.