Late-capitalist, western society is not built for walking. We are filtered through non-essential spaces direct to where we can be productive – our desks or the shopping mall. If we want to walk we should do it in designated zones, heritage sites, national trust properties – accessible through the gift shop and tea rooms – you’ve got to keep contributing to the God of mammon after all. Walking in non-designated zones is treated with suspicion, and anyone relying on the privatized mess of our once public transport structure for any reason that other to get to an office in London is considered mentally ill.
Why is walking treated with suspicion? After all, there are regular exhortations for us all to lead less sedentary lives, so one would expect that choosing a 30 minute walk over a 5 minute car journey would be the norm rather than the exception. Is it just the lack of efficiency that means choosing to walk is frowned upon?
I suspect that this is part of it. We are under pressure to account for every minute of our lives – deliberately choosing to take longer to do something, and therefore limit the amount of time you have for other activities is suspicious to a society that worships industriousness. If you ran rather than drove, it wouldn’t be quite so frowned upon as running is considered an activity … walking is just something you do … a non-activity.
Walking as a non-activity is exactly what I like about it. When I am walking it means I am not checking my phone, not browsing the internet, not caught up in the 24 hour cycle of connectivity. Even if I start off the walk thinking about issues at work, it is very unusual for these worries to occupy my mind for the entire duration that I’m walking. I suspect this is part of the reason why so many writers and philosophers have been great walkers, as your feet walk so your mind picks itself up and roams free. Whatever problem you are stuck on, whatever nightmare is plaguing you, slips off somewhere as you walk, and suddenly you realise that what you’ve been worrying about is not the whole world.
Whilst you are walking you are in a state of non-time and non-place. Somewhere between where you’ve been and where you are going. Here lies walking’s potential as a radical activity. Whilst you are in this non-place there is the possibility that you might decide to change your destination. Many of my walks these days are circular during my lunch break from work. At some point on the walk the thought “what if I just don’t go back?” always pops into my head.
Walking always carries with it the thrill of departure, a sense of leaving behind, and part of this is generated by the uncertainty of where you will end up. If you get in the car and drive to the shops, you are herded by the road and your own muscle memory to your destination. There isn’t the time to change your mind. If you decide to walk however, you not only have time to change your mind, you often have a myriad of potential distractions to explore. Slacking off, discovering something new through just following an impulse or idle curiosity, these are some of the best things about being alive – but we are not supposed to admit it. There are countless different paths we can take in this world, we shouldn’t always take the quickest one.