POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Commuting the soul...

There is a very interesting article by Nick Paumgarten in the New Yorker regarding commuting culture in America.  As we are soon moving the the New York City metro area, I found the article to be of great interest.  We will soon be ministering to people in New Jersey, some of whom will be on trains during the week.  It is one of the challenges of church planting in the area we are going as people are strapped for time and financially stretched thin.  Weekends are also sacred as the pace slows from the hours in cars and on trains.  Here is an excerpt:

“People with long journeys to and from work are systematically worse off and report significantly lower subjective well-being,” Stutzer told me. According to the economic concept of equilibrium, people will move or change jobs to make up for imbalances in compensation. Commute time should be offset by higher pay or lower living costs, or a better standard of living. It is this last category that people apparently have trouble measuring. They tend to overvalue the material fruits of their commute—money, house, prestige—and to undervalue what they’re giving up: sleep, exercise, fun.

Robert Putnam sociologist and author of the book Bowling Alone made some insightful statements about the reality of modern life:

Putnam likes to imagine that there is a triangle, its points comprising where you sleep, where you work, and where you shop. In a canonical English village, or in a university town, the sides of that triangle are very short: a five-minute walk from one point to the next. In many American cities, you can spend an hour or two travelling each side. “You live in Pasadena, work in North Hollywood, shop in the Valley,” Putnam said. “Where is your community?” The smaller the triangle, the happier the human, as long as there is social interaction to be had. In that kind of life, you have a small refrigerator, because you can get to the store quickly and often. By this logic, the bigger the refrigerator, the lonelier the soul.

Please pray for us as we move to a place that has fragmented community and very large refrigerators.  I pray that God might use the church to allow people a respite and joy for the soul as we live for the glory of God, the good of the City extending hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Growing in community will be difficult in commuterland - but it is also a deep felt human need. 

For those of you from the Atlanta area, this sprawling southern city receives some treatment as well.  It is not a land of time spent on trains, but rather a car bound people guzzling down gasoline.   Just think, for some in Atlanta -" travelling ten miles can take forty-five minutes." One final segment was of interest to me as it actually mentions the great garden state of New Jersey. In this, Putnam is comparing Bologne, Italy and its quaint, smaller feel to the land of Tony Soprano.

Putnam’s favorite city is Bologna, in Italy, which has a population of three hundred and fifty thousand; it’s just small enough to retain village-like characteristics. “It would be interesting to swap the citizens of Bologna with the population of New Jersey,” Putnam said. “Do the Bolognese become disconnected and grouchy? Is there a sudden explosion of malls in Bologna? How much of the way we live is forced on us? How much is our choice?”

It is a lenghtly article but well written and worth your time.  May God use Jacob's Well in the lives of disconnected and grouchy people.