June 5, 2008

Most people don't go too many places or get very far from home.

According to cellphone tracking data.

I've often thought about how embarrassingly cramped the track I take through the world is. I'd like to see a large, detailed map with the time I've spent in various places over the course of my life represented by dots of deepening colors. Even the track through my own house, depicted that way, would be absurdly limited. I'm often in bed, of course, but I'm also usually in one of 2 chairs. I always sit at the same side of the table. I drive around, but mostly in Madison. A map showing where I've driven would have a deep groove in a few streets and many streets unmarked.

Henry David Thoreau said: "I have traveled a great deal in Concord."

I don't even think I've traveled a great deal in Madison. I just lived in New York City for 9 months, and I found my groove there. There I was, walking down that street again, sitting at that table in that café and then on the middle cushion of the sofa, until it was time to go to bed again, and that meant to the left side of the bed.

Go on! Be adventurous. Lose consciousness on the other side of the bed tonight — why don't you? I don't want to. I'm happy right here where I always am.

And — the data show — so are you.


Brian O'Connell said...

I work from home. It's even worse!

John Lynch said...

There's always more to see. From the human scale, the world is pretty much infinite.

There's also always more to learn from one place. Being a stay at home isn't so bad if you really know where you live.

vbspurs said...

I work from home too, Brian.

But every weekend I force myself to do something (anything) that I haven't done before.

I force myself to check out a new restaurant, or if I go to the same restaurant, to try a new dish, drive down a road I never have, wear a new ensemble combination I never have, etc. etc.

This can seem a little pathetic, I know.

Plus, it reinforces the idea I have that as I get older, I get less adventurous because I never had to force myself to do something unexpected at 21. I just did.

I'd like to see a large, detailed map with the time I've spent in various places over the course of my life represented by dots of deepening colors.

Hmm, you're on Facebook, right? They have an add-on applet that allows you to plot all the places you've visited, including time line. I forget the name, though.


rhhardin said...

Nonsense. The daily pattern is just fine. What you don't do is notice the ordinary enough.

I love my daily bike route, which adds up to 8,000 miles a year.

What's ordinary? From the last few days

having goten into town you can tell because the guy is carrying a dog poop bag ; and notice the public posture of inattention while the dog possibly looks for the perfect spot.

And city people pretending it's country. Interesting body langauge. The dog seems to be the most single-minded of the three.

RacyKacy said...

I am afraid I would be a bit weary of retracing my tracks for fear of regret or worry where I may have been when I should not have been.

SteveR said...

Having spent most of my life in the western U.S. plus a few years living overseas, as well as an educational path (geology) and jobs that took me around (and outside) a lot, I'm probably more spread out than most. Probably not as much as I think though.

I'll get over on my wife's side of the bed for a few minutes tonight but not enough to overcome the "groove" on my side.

paul a'barge said...

"to" or "too"?

Either one works.


XWL said...

It's a feature, not a flaw.

The less places you go, the "greener" you are.

You aren't settled in your ways, you are, 'saving the planet'.

You are just, 'being the change you desire' (or some other such commie slogan).

Mitch H. said...

I have a mental map of the town I live in, and its immediate environs, filled in as I place sneaker sole to earth or pavement. There are nearby ridges I haven't climbed, ravines I haven't been down. As much as his philosophy and politics annoy and enrage me, I think Thoreau was onto something - we should worry less about the extension of our wandering, and more about the density. Exhaust localities before moving along.

Of course, this notion taken to its extreme could get you arrested for trespass. I used to hang out with an urban spelunker, though, and so far as I know he never got nicked.

madawaskan said...

Why is Starbucks in such a rut?

Why can't they go more global and less Italian centric?

Why not Cafe con leche?

Thai tea?

Vietnamese Iced coffee?

If I can find that somewhere with a jasmine tea chaser...

George said...

Saw a woodchuck a few days ago. I surprised it beside a foot bridge by the path I walk.

Imagine a waddling oven-mitt with a mink's fur.

Anthony said...

Well, you know what they say, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" (Emerson).

For me, however, I am a classic absent-minded professor type so I keep a daily routine largely to avoid forgetting to put my socks on or something.

Roger J. said...

Wow! this is really a blinding flash of the obvious. This amazing finding probably correlates very positively with the fact that most people are killed in auto accidents within a few miles of their home! Who knew we gave up nomadism millenia ago in favor of civilization. On the other hand, given the price of gas, this radius is likely to decrease.

Roger J. said...

Ms Victoria: forcing yourself to do those things is a lot easier in Miami than it is, say, in Moses Lake, Washington. ;--)

AJ Lynch said...

Ann said:

"I am often in bed, of course".

Do tell us more :)

vbspurs said...

Moses Lake, Washington

Okay, Rog, so I Googled and found the Moses Lake Tourism guide.

Whilst the scenery must be drop-dead gorgeous (anything in the PNW is), that town is toe UP.

Denny's, Inca Mexican Restaurant (?!), lots of Taco joints, and probably the fanciest place in town, Steakhouse at Moses Pointe.

So, yeah, point taken. ;)

...but, so, wear a new pair of socks! I'm serious. Vary your cotidian routine, and you're life will seem more exciting.

I'm now off to use my new perfume (Fresh's Sugar Lemon), and boy am I PSYCHED.


Ann Althouse said...

"Hmm, you're on Facebook, right? They have an add-on applet that allows you to plot all the places you've visited, including time line."

I know but it doesn't do what I want which is to represent the length of time in each spot.

"too or to"

I meant what I wrote: too. I considered "go to too many places." Didn't like the to too (the tutu).

As for noticing the details of familiar places... I've written about this many times. Here's a typical example of that.

ricpic said...

There's such a thing as beating yourself up
About something for which there is no reason;
Go ahead, go on sleeping on the left side:
No man dare call it treason.

vbspurs said...

As for noticing the details of familiar places...Here's a typical example of that.


You know, they say the devil's in the details. I, OTOH, have always thought like Arundhati Roy.

That God can be found in the small things.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

New research that makes creative use of sensitive location-tracking data from 100,000 cellphones in Europe suggests that most people can be found in one of just a few locations at any time, and that they do not generally go far from home.

Well, in Europe. Big deal. You don't have to go very far to go anywhere there. Some countries in Europe would fit inside the County that I live in.

The perception of distance and what is a normal area to travel also varies drastically from people in the East Coast to people who live in the West.

We calculate a trip in time (hours driven) not miles and don't think think too much about taking a trip that requires driving hundreds of miles. (Well, we might think more about it with gas hovering at 4.90 a gallon for regular......but we will still do it. Because we HAVE TO)

dbp said...


"Whilst the scenery must be drop-dead gorgeous (anything in the PNW is)..."

That is what my Mom thought when she accepted a posting there back when she was an Air Force Nurse--She met my Dad there, so it worked out pretty well for me.

If you like wheat fields and a shallow swampy lake then "Moses' Hole" as we called it, is for you. There aren't many homely parts of the PNW, but Moses is one of those few.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

As long as we are talking scenic Pacific North West. Here is a link to a sunrise photo that I took this last winter from my deck. Completely unretouched. No color altering.

the same morning

This is my backyard and this is why I love where I live.

chuck b. said...
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Kirby Olson said...

I think this is how they catch some criminals: through geographical profiling. I saw a show on it.

Even common criminals don't like to leave the neighborhood.

Revenant said...

Why not Cafe con leche?

I was out at a local coffee shop a while back and a friend of mine -- not a coffee drinker himself -- bemusedly asked "why is 'coffee with milk' listed three times in different languages?".

jimbino said...

"La causa es, que de mi pecho tan grande es el corazón, que teme, no sin razon, que el mundo le viene estrecho." -- Pedro Calderón

The older I get, the less I explore and the more I seek comfort and familiarity.

As a youth, I set out by freighter for Europe, where I didn't know a single soul, and stayed for 5 years, ending up with a job showing tourists the sights of Lucerne, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Florence, Venice and Munich.

Nowadays I won't live in Europe or Yankeeland because of the weather and the socialists, in Florida because of the bathing-suit fascists, in CA because of the traffic and the crazies, in China because they smoke and spit all over the place, and in India because of all the kiddie begging.

Muslim countries, especially, are out of bounds because of their despicable laws and culture, and because they treat atheists poorly, to say the least.

My world is becoming very narrow!

But Ireland has improved now that there's a ban on smoking in pubs; New Zealand and Chile have improved since they've thrown out the socialists. If you can stand drinking vodka in the dark for four months, Estonia, with its 15% flat tax, is the place to live.

But Brazil is the best: rich, capitalistic, beautiful, libertine, upbeat and improving. An Amerikan can taste freedom in Brazil.

Bruce said...

I'm happily a homebody. My office is 3 miles from my house. I have my favorite restaurants, coffee shops, and stores.

I've met those who can't understand staying home on weekend evenings. "Don't you feel like you are always missing out?", I get asked. I really don't, though. I am happily, enthusiastically a home body. I do travel, but that is a handful of times a year, and even then, often only a few hundred miles away.

One thing I noticed about the original study, though, is that it assumes cell phones equal people. Just because my phone is on my night stand or in my parked car, it doesn't mean I am. I move much more than my phone does.

madawaskan said...


Ummm hummm let me see-

I think it was a cheat of some sort.

I use to live in Key West sometimes you get rock island fever-the weather stays the same and if you can't get out on the boat you start to think you know why

Hemingway shot himself....although I think he did that CONUS.

Anyways-damn-it's not the same thing-or the Cuban guys knew me better than myself and they'd always told me what I really wanted was something else-

Cripes maybe they put rum in it-but they'd ask me how many sugars put that in first-and then the oldest guy would do it up with evaporated milk.

Whatever the heck it was-it weren't cafe au lait!

Now don't get me started on the Vietnamese stuff....

You know probably just dawned on me why Starbuck's can't do it...

Paddy O. said...

“Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”

So says a desert father. Well, more than one. It’s a theme which runs through the deep spiritual writings of the centuries.

Don’t go anywhere. Stay where you are at. Do not distract yourself. Do not engage in things which offer a false sustenance. Engage the soul by shutting off the soul’s propensity for diversion. Do not seek answers elsewhere, for they are within.

Of course, now staying in one's "cell" means all manner of diversions talking to others. Undermining even the quiet places.

So, it's probably better said today--don't get too far from home. Stay in your groove, and the groove will teach you everything.

rhhardin said...

As for noticing the details of familiar places...Here's a typical example of that.

I meant, though, noticing stuff that supports the ordinariness of the ordinary.

Noticing not so much what you see as what you see with.

One of my flickr tags is ``signs'' ( index , notice also the slideshow button) that, without exactly having a plan, I pick up as indicating some sort of intersection of two definitions of reality, I guess. If I had to articulate it.

None of them are beautiful, yet they do seem to capture something.

A sociologist's eye rather than an artist's.

Goffman had a nice picture book on gender signs, come to think of it.

Whaddya know, it's in print. It was written before feminism. I don't photograph people though, as an intended study.

UWS guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
UWS guy said...


Backpacker-->europe-->post cards from the louvre.

Pogo said...

We tend to orbit our own sun
an ellipse first wide and far
then narrower the path
until at last we burn our wings
and fall heavy into the light

William said...

When you finally have enough leisure and money to travel, the urge has diminished. Prostate medication inhibits wanderlust. When I was young I felt that there was some great good spot in the world where I would fit in just right. I never found it, but in Europe many people considered me an American rather than a jerk....I find the small repetitive details of life as comforting as rituals. Plus there's a Groundhog Day efficiency in not having to constantly negotiate the petty bargains of life....I can't quote the source but he said that there are two chief opponents to human happiness: sameness and change.

ricpic said...

When I was a kid the very cracks in the pavement gave me wings.

I haul my carcass through time and space to somewhere lost
On the off chance that the fugitive glimpse of sidestreet kids
Playing in puddles
Will bring back the magic of the block where I lived.

Ann Althouse said...

DBQ: great photos! Thanks.

Lots of great comments in this thread. Thanks.

Mr. Forward said...

"Go on! Be adventurous. Lose consciousness on the other side of the bed tonight — why don't you?"

Thanks for the invitation. That does sound adventurous. Hope you're not a blanket hog.

Mr. Forward said...

This may not work. I think you mentioned once you have a view of the State Capitol building from your window. You-know-who is on top of the dome.

Chip Ahoy said...

I'm so sick of being uprooted I can't stand it. The high school I graduated from was the fifteenth school I attended. Then four separate colleges. I want nothing more than to find my place, be satisfied where I find myself, and stay put absolutely. Travel is little more than logistics and highly overrated. I thought I had that achieved five moves ago, but was forced to move. Four moves ago was forced to move. Three moves ago ..., Two moves ago ..., the last move, same thing. Enough! I'll be satisfied to never set foot on another plane. Or train. Or ship. Or a freak'n monorail or even a another ski-lift for that matter.

I despise traveling. I should add, I have four brothers and sisters with the same experience as me but that do not share my attitude. And having said all that I must add further, it has been enriching and a good deal of fun too.

Bruce makes an excellent point about the cell phone study. I seldom take mine with me, and I hate, HATE, HATE when the people I'm with take calls. My impulse is to grab their phone and throw it.

Chip Ahoy said...

The disturbance in my psyche caused by recalling all this forced me to try my hand at something I saw on Flay's Throw Down, Kentucky Brown.

Chip Ahoy said...

An indian carved by a one-time slave?

Beth said...

I'm so sick of being uprooted I can't stand it. The high school I graduated from was the fifteenth school I attended.

Chip, are you a military brat? My dad did 20 years in the Army/Air Force, then 20+ more in the Red Cross, which stations its field directors on military bases, so my siblings and I all got used to moving every two-three years. I never know how to answer "Where are you from?"

We got to New Orleans when I was 14 and my dad retired here. I fell in love and made it my home. Perhaps because unlike people who grew up here, I'm not rooted to a neighborhood, I like to range all over the city, sometimes just driving to drive. I shop regularly at about five different grocery stores; I live by the river and work by the lake, which means I cross town, end to end, right through the middle, every work day. New Orleans, more so before the storm, covers a lot of territory, and I like street-level driving, as opposed to taking the interstate.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Chip: This was my experience too when I was young. My parents were union printers who could pull "traveling cards" and go from place to place and be assured of a good job because they would be covering the permanent printer's jobs while they were on vacation or also traveling. This is in the days of hard type (Linotype) when printing was a skilled job.

In 4th grade I went to school in Ypsilanti, Walla Walla, Seal Beach and New Orleans and spent the summer in Mexico City (as we did every year until I was a junior in high school) where my grandmother, aunts and uncles lived. That was a calm year for moving. We were gypsies and I traversed Route 66 more times than Asleep at the Wheel can sing it. The next year my Mom put her foot down and we settled down. Except for summer vacations in Argentina, Mexico, Canada and Ireland.

As a result, my brother can't stand to travel and I still love to travel (go figure). The downside of being uprooted as a child is that you don't make a lot of close childhood friends. What's the point? You are going to be a few states away in a month or so. Even today, I'm perfectly happy to not have a bunch of close friends.

I agree with you, traveling does give you a broader world view.

My husband (who also traveled a lot as a child because of his fathers work) and I have a pact. We will take three moderately short (1000 miles or so) "road trips" a year on roads we both have never been on in our lives. We love it.

jimbino said...

I've traveled the world seeking happiness only to return home to find it.

Elliott A said...

We are all greater creatures of habit than we dare admit

Trooper York said...

I am rooted in Brooklyn even more than the trees to be found in Carroll Gardens. I have friends since I was five years old and know some of the shopkeepers since I was a toddler. More than fifty years. I have traveled a little. Vegas, Hawaii, hey I even went to a freakin' foreign country (Canada). But New York, especailly Brooklyn is all I will ever need. Call me provincial. I don't give a shit.

And I went to Boston. It sucked. Just like the Red Sox.

God bless Jason Giambi and his panties.

Simon said...

Mr. Forward said...
"This may not work. I think you mentioned once you have a view of the State Capitol building from your window."

I think that was the briefly-considered downtown apartment.

"You-know-who is on top of the dome."


vbspurs said...

DBP: Yikes, that does sound grim. But at least your parents me there. My parents met walking on the street in London. And no, she wasn't a streetwalker at the time, silly.

DBQ: Hey, your second photo is now my current wallpaper. Divine. Looks like Hawaiian lava somehow.

Revenant: In one café here in Miami, in the "Anglo" area of Coconut Grove, there is exactly what you describe. Three phrases for the same thing.

Italian (latte). Spanish (café con leche). English (espresso and milk).

They unfortunately use only one word for what we British call pasties, though. The Spanish "empanada". I make a point of saying it in Portuguese (empada), just to be truculent.

Paddy O: I like my groove, too. My parents yanked me all over the world when I was a kid (that sounds more bitter than I intend), and I have made it a point to stick to one home after emigrating.

Grooves are good, especially if all you've ever had are slingshots.

Beth: Street level driving is the best. :)

Mr. Forward said...

Wisconsin's state Motto is "Forward" and gullible freshmen at the University used to be told the statue on top of the Capitol was "Mrs. Forward."

A beautiful woman with a heart of stone.


Mr. Forward said...

Better picture, make that a heart of bronze.


blake said...

This one for rhhardin:

I been shuffling
A lonesome old trail
I’m gonna send a letter
To my dog in the mail

Hey, Packy!
I’m coming back again!

My legs are tired
And my feet are draggin'
But I ain’t gonna stop
Till I see his tail waggin'

Hey, Packy!
I’m coming back again!

I heard that proverb tell
A dog is man’s best friend
There’s no more detaining
I’m walking
It’s raining
Packy’s waiting at the rainbow
He’s waiting at the rainbow’s end

The clouds drift
The world is so wide
A fella feels lucky
With a dog by his side

Hey, Packy!
I’m coming back again!

A two-bit mutt
Ain’t worth a dollar
But you’re sure gonna dig it
when he comes when you holler

Hey, Packy!
I’m coming back again!

Now I heard that proverb tell
A dog is man’s best friend
No more detainin'
I’m walking
It’s rainin'
Packy’s waiting at the rainbow
He’s waiting at the rainbow’s end

Hey, Packy, I’m coming home
I’m gonna scratch your little head
I’m gonna give you a little bone

Hey, Packy!
I’m coming back again!

Some folks look hard
searching for something
They could see so plain
In that dog’s tail thumping

Hey, Packy!
I’m coming back again!

Some folks are wondering
why they was born
They ain’t never been swimming
with a dog in the morning

Hey, Packy!
I’m coming back again!

Mr. Forward said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr. Forward said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr. Forward said...

This should work.


Excellent view of the Mrs.

Danel Chester French also sculpted Linoln at the Lincoln Memorial.

downtownlad said...

I slept on a different side of the bed last night.

I'm not boring.

I've also lived in 5 different countries.