How Our Sense of Place Was Lost

Sunset_11The modern mania for movement and change contributes to an unsettled state of mind that manifests itself in a generalized loss of the sense of place. Facilitated by technology, Americans have become a restless people constantly on the move inside this rushed pace of life. We have become a nation of strangers without anchorage in a place and disconnected from community. In the expressive words of Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, we have built a vast network of nameless or numbered viaducts and bridges that become “anonymous passages for anonymous people to go to unknown places.”[1]

As a result, this mobility tends to make all places appear the same. As Richard Weaver notes, our ability to travel anywhere at any time on these “anonymous passages” diminishes “the separateness of places” that were once protected and appeared different because of their “isolation, privacy and . . . identity.”[2]

In fact, our electronic networks have now contributed to this destruction of place to such a point that it no longer matters where we are inserted into what has been so aptly called the lonely—and now so virtual—crowd.[3] In our networked society, one can work, live, and communicate anywhere. A public place like an airport or city park is “no longer a communal space but a place of social collection: people come together but do not speak to each other. Each is tethered to a mobile device and to the people and places to which that device serves as a portal.”[4]

Granted, our technologies do facilitate our contact with others at great convenience and over great distances. Nevertheless, they can also encourage making our messages more superficial by increasing their volume, brevity, and speed. While instant connectivity can supplement personal relationships, it can also make them more distant when mediated and hidden behind a screen or in short text messages. The very real danger is allowing these technologies to replace the face-to-face contacts and sense of community that make place so important in our lives.

When we allow our instant communications to uproot the anchors of place in us, we lose more than just physical location. We lose the stage for our relationships within our communities, the locus of legend and myth, and the place where our lives gain context and meaning. The result is a world that, to use the harsh words of Charles Reich, “has obliterated place, locality and neighborhood, and given us the anonymous separateness of our existence.”[5]

Excerpt from the book, Return to Order.

[1] See Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, MNF meeting, Aug. 21, 1986, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Documents, American TFP Research Library, Spring Grove, Pa. (This collection consists of transcribed audio recordings and is hereafter cited as Corrêa de Oliveira Documents. All references are TFP translations.) Twentieth century urban planners like Le Corbusier conceived of a new street which would become a “machine for traffic” where the pedestrian could not obstruct traffic flow. By making it easier to get out of the city, the planners built the highways which inadvertently helped turn the cities into empty shells of themselves and sent people into the suburbs.

[2] Richard Weaver, Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Time (Wilmington, Del.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1995), p. 37.

[3] Cf. David Riesman, Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney, The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (New Haven.: Yale University Press, 1989).

[4] Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011), p. 155.

[5] Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1970), p. 7.

  • Paul Tran

    Technology, per se, isn’t to blame. It’s the individual person’s abandonment of God and traditional values that got us to the point where we are, where technology is open to abuse.