One day’s walk carried me through examples of every lifestyle from rural, through suburban, into inner city and downtown. What was distinct and united by government and culture is now more entwined. Or at least, the urban world reaches into the rural, and the global pervades the local.
Last night was spent in a fine town with a long name (which I may misspell) Kirkuntilloch. It is the self-proclaimed canal capital, a major hub of the canal system that cut through Scotland’s waist, a watery shortcut from Edinburgh to Glasgow that saved many ships from having to survive the wild open ocean around this island. The canals only exist for recreation now. Highways, railways, and the need for larger ships made the canal obsolete in the mid-60s.
Highways, made out of steel, asphalt or electrons, have also changed the place and the way people live. Especially in a country with excellent rail service, there is no need to live in the city for a city job. That’s very evident in the States, but a downtown trail station makes it even more apparent. Stepping off the train in the midst of the high-rises is far more convenient than driving and parking. Contrary to US train traffic, I have yet to see a freight train. Throughout each day I see regular passenger trains. Despite that regularity and convenience though, the roads are busy and the city housing is packed.
The electronic highways are having a broader impact. Sitting in the canal capital, I listened to hours of American pop music while I ate my Guinness and steak and Guinness pie. Can’t have too much Guinness (though I’m a lightweight). But I had too much American music. That was probably because they were playing the greatest hits of the seventies and I’d prefer something more eclectic and danceable. (They did have a dance floor, but I was there on the wrong night.) American music, news, comedy pervade, as do American brands. With my head down in a book, this could be just another state. Even much of the food is familiar. (Though the pakora haggis was a new one for me. And, no, I didn’t order it.)
The familiarity makes travel easier. The foreign culture is more distant, and I suspect that the distance is in time. The fact that we are becoming a global culture is not news. While much of the pervasion is of American culture into the rest of the world, the internet is allowing back flow and cross flow. Guinness is Irish, yet it is popular in the States. The whiskies I’ve seen behind the bars here are also available in my local liquor store. Haggis pakora or Pakora haggis may not be a common example of cultural cross flow, but even being able to describe it in this blog is an example of how arcane occurences can be at least marginally witnessed around the world. How many YouTube posts have been viewed without any understanding of where the videographer worked from?
The canal builders probably expected their work to be productive longer. Their efforts were re-purposed. Cultures aren’t crafted, but each generation defines theirs and expects it to persevere. We may think we know the internet’s limits and have some expectation of the strength of branding and culture, but I suspect that culture is being redefined along electronic lines.
People moved into the suburbs, but they continue to cluster. The internet is going to allow cultural assimilation, but it will be generations before it is complete.
There will still be a Scotland, and we’ll all be able to know more about it too.
Does this seem rambling? It does to me, but that’s because, as I type this on the American creation that is the internet, the teenagers beside me are streaming screaming music. I don’t know where it comes from. Maybe they don’ t either. But, oy, it is distracting.
Maybe I should spend some time in a Carnegie Library in the States (started by a Scot) where life is quieter, and I think, better funded. Go figure. I need a Guinness.