Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The world feels much bigger today

Since most European airspace has been shut down due to the giant ash cloud from Eyjafjallajökull the world has started to feel much bigger. I'm supposed to be flying out to Prague next week. I might be able to, or I might not. There's no way of knowing.

It sounds like something out of a speculative SF story; a natural occurence renders the technology humans rely on for everything from food transportation to holidays useless. The vast distances travelled on a daily basis by thousands upon thousands of people suddenly comes into sharp relief.

Of course, there are alternative ways to get places in the world. Europe is accessible by ferry, train and even by car. It would be possible to get to Prague in a few days by taking the ferry and driving through Belgium and Germany, but it's a far cry from the couple of hours it would take to fly there. The "long haul" 12 hour flight to California suddenly becomes a week long expedition.

When the main obstacle to international travel is expense, the world feels very small. Sure, you may fly cattle class in a £25 seat or in the lap of luxury seat for whatever you can afford to pay, but fundamentally there is little stopping the man in the street from being a "jet setter" in his own time.

So now we're tasting a little of what it's like to lose something that we've all grown so very used to. Even those who don't fly themselves rely on easy, and fast, international travel for so many things. When there are no planes in the sky, a 2 day business trip to India suddenly doesn't seem so viable. And I don't know of many English banana plantations.

Of course, many things rely on air transport purely because of it's convenience. Because we can fly to anywhere in the world at short notice, we do, and that rapidly becomes the norm. Now we can't imagine conducting business without seeing each other face to face. We can't imagine foreign holidays being anything more complex than a minor inconvenience at the check-in desk.

So on the one hand, there's very much a sense of "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." But at the same time, I get another feeling of serenity. The skies are clear blue for the first time in decades. Many people are rediscovering the joys to be had in their home countries rather than jetting off around the world seeking the exotic. And barbecue season is upon us.

So I might get to see Prague next week. Hell, I've been waiting for years to get a chance as it's somewhere I'd love to visit. But if the worst comes to the worst, I'll stay in good old Blighty, maybe set up a tent somewhere rural and drink some fine English ales. And if that's the worst, then that suits me fine.

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