20 October 2007


In a recent BBC interview with the no-impact family, Michelle Conlin noticed that life had a different pace as a result of their one-year experiment, a project that seemed both to complicate and simplify their lives.

David Elliot Cohen captured this sense of complication when he remarked about his own adventure, "Disengaging from your normal routine and establishing an entirely new way of life is a full-time job for months on end."

And yet there's a sense of simplification because, as in other examples I’ve found, the Conlins cut back on striving to increase their comfort level.

If I’m allowed to illustrate this idea by sharing a passage from Bill Bryson's, The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid, it follows:
"By the closing years of the 1950s most people – certainly most middle-class people – had pretty much everything they had ever dreamed of, so increasingly there was nothing much to do with their wealth but buy more and bigger versions of things they didn't truly require: second cars, lawn tractors, double-width fridges, hi-fis with bigger speakers and more knobs to twiddle, extra phones and televisions, room intercoms, gas grills, kitchen gadgets, snowblowers, you name it. Having more things of course also meant having more complexity in one's life, more running costs, more things to look after, more things to clean, more things to break down." p. 330
(I’m about to type out a description of my urban camping nostalgia on my laptop from work because my computer screen at home shorted itself out yesterday, two months after the warranty expired.)

My urban camping nostalgia includes learning that I could move around (from business trip to artist residency or from house-sitting to couchsurfing) with very little stuff.

While I was learning how very few things I actually needed, I was simultaneously growing accustomed to the freedom of movement, a feeling of being unburdened.

With this nomadic movement, I noticed a different engagement level with the people and projects in my surroundings. My interaction was more in the moment because I was not preoccupied with the maintenance of a set routine somewhere else.

Living in a constantly changing context nurtured my sensitivity to different outlooks and approaches. I refer to this act of experiencing different viewing points as open sourcing my life.

As I try to decide if I should postpone my return to school so that I can replace my broken washing machine and my breaking fridge, not to mention my broken computer screen, I sense the growing nostalgia, simply my preference for experience over ownership.

13 October 2007

Crossing the Couch Pool

Wednesday I had dinner with Aldo. He was born and bred in Rotterdam, a true Rotterdammer. He still lives here.

I remembered from the first time we met two years ago that Aldo was the first European to sign up to Couchsurfing.com.

This week I learned that he was also the first person to actually surf a couch via the group's interface.

From this angle, Rotterdam holds an important place in the Couchsurfing.com history books.

In my limited scope, I still see couchsurfing as one type of urban camping. For me, it's like carpooling.

In the urban jungle, you can share houses in much the same way that you can share cars.

I dearly love my experience of this concept, but I told Aldo that I don't see the point of the monthly meetings held in Rotterdam.

I don't (yet) attend. It's nothing personal. I probably wouldn't go to monthly meetings about carpooling either.

He replied that they are weekly meetings. He explained that a lot of people want more than couchsurfing. They want community.

Our dinner discussion also covered the argumentation block I'd just taught using Jared Diamond's book.

For this reason, more than once, our conversation came back around to history's record of the human need to band together through the development of organizing systems.

At the beginning of her article, Penelope wrote,
"'It’s a lifestyle and a commitment,' Mr. Medel said. He and his fellow New York hosts meet at least one night a week at a bar in Union Square, new surfers in tow. They throw birthday parties for one another and mount what they call invasions of other cities, as 30 or so New York surfers did last summer in Boston, strewing themselves on the couches of 30 or so Bostonians for three days."
First, I wondered if anyone would call carpooling a lifestyle and a commitment. Maybe.

Then, back at home, I did a search at Couchsurfing.com and saw that we have 300 registered couchsurfers in Rotterdam.

(I proudly thought that if we used the weekly meetings to get organized and invade other cities, there's no doubt the odds would be in our favor! Our place in the history books would be secure.)

The day after dinner, an email from Kate arrived in my inbox. She said, "I caught another bookcrossing book and its been really invigorating. I really like it and have plans to release a lot of my read books when I get a minute."

When I was teaching the argumentation block last month, I saw a clearly marked bookcrossing book in the Utrecht train station. The title didn't grab me so I left it for someone else.

Now I'm wondering if my behavior fits in with a bookcrossing lifestyle and commitment. I have a feeling that I could probably find out at the meetings: http://bookcrossing.meetup.com/

06 October 2007

Head Start

Penelope said, you must have read Bruce Chatwin? I hadn't. She told me that I really should read his ideas about our nomadic natures. My friend Kate had also pointed me to his book Songlines during my first urban camping trip. I haven't read him. I will.

After mentioning my urban camping in the article, Penelope wrote, "A state of near ceaseless traveling puts the couch surfer in a transnational zone, an idea dear to Pico Iyer, the travel writer and novelist who has been chewing over notions of home and nomadism for 25 years."

Her article was published three days after I started teaching a three-week university course in which we were asked to apply argumentation theory to Professor Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs and Steel.

The author of this Pulitzer Prize winning book made a case for the geographically favorable environmental conditions of the past causing the differences between first and third world countries of the present.

People in regions with geographically favorable environmental conditions were able to make a switch, earlier than other regions, from nomadic hunter gatherer practices to sedentary agrarian societies.

The switch from nomad to farmer caused large interacting societies, which led to the development of technology, writing, immunization and organizing systems.

Societies that made the switch faster than others had the head start on today's balance of power.