Over the past 150 years the world has grown a whole lot smaller: the invention of the telegraph, telephone and and the advent of international broadcasting first breached the traditional barriers of oceans and distance; followed in the 1960s and 70s with cheap holiday package travel for the masses. Satellite communication and the internet have, between them, finished the job: now we are more aware of world events and occurrences than ever before, we can watch through – even control – cameras the other side of the world and speak instantaneously to pretty much anyone, anywhere. You can even direct-dial the antarctic, if it should take your fancy, country code: 672!
In practical terms, however, the world is just as big as it always has been and – despite advances in travel methods – long-distance travel is still a costly and time-consuming activity. Surely, if we have the technology for instant communication, we can come up with something just as immediate for getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’?
Sadly, teleporting is still the preserve of science-fiction and – happily – virtual worlds… but what if it wasn’t? What if travelling to the other side of the planet was as quick and simple as travelling to the other side of the street? What if we lived in a world where the daily commute to work could involve transcontinental distances and holidays to far-flung destinations could be taken at the drop of a hat? What effect would that have on our world, and on us?
This is a tricky one to get to grips with. Let’s assume, right from the off, that the same principles apply as for sl – it’s free, point-to-point (except where fixed landing points are stipulated), takes no specialist equipment, and you’re limited to taking whatever you can carry and wear with you – so no solutions to global transport of goods to consider. At first, i imagine it would all be terribly exciting, as we all go bananas teleporting here, there and everywhere – visiting all those places we’ve always wanted to see, dropping in unexpectedly on long-lost friends and relatives and generally exploring the hell out of every corner of our planet. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Yet, i personally think it’s a potent recipe for environmental, cultural and social disaster.
That’s not to say i wouldn’t be one of the first to hotfoot it around the globe, given the opportunity, but then i wouldn’t be alone in that desire, would i? The world and his wife would want to be getting their passports stamped, with the more adventurous happily setting their sights on the middle of the rainforest, the Arctic tundras and the few remaining unexplored places that are left in the world, secure in the knowledge that they can simply TP back home again when they get bored: suddenly the world becomes a very crowded place and those unspoilt wildernesses will become rapidly spoiled for good.
We are not very good when it comes to covering our tracks: we frighten the wildlife, throw out trash in the nearest bush, indiscriminately stray from the footpaths and disturb the peace by virtue of our inherently intrusive nature. Even in the most protected and remote of locations, we have brought disarray and disorder into paradise – take the Galapagos Islands, for example, where the harbour is clogged with the castaway rubbish of ‘eco’ tourism and visitors are greeted by rows of tacky tourist shops, hawking plastic trinkets, whilst the steady tramp of thousands of photographers destroys the very ecosystems they come to marvel at.
Then there’s the social impact of such free and easy travel. i started this piece by remarking on how small the world has become – with that shrinking of boundaries, we’ve seen a corresponding loss of culture, identity and uniqueness. You’ll find McDonalds, CocoCola and an Irish pub in practically every far-flung reach of every country in the world, Amazon tribespeople aspire to be British football players, and in many places ancient rituals, costume and customs only survive as quaint entertainment for the tourist trade. Throw teleportation into the mix, and it’s just a matter of time before cultural differences are eroded to the point of extinction, leaving a bland, dull and utterley dismal world.
And finally, what would the ability to fling ourselves anywhere do to us as individuals? Would we grow fat and lazy, unwilling to walk anywhere when a TP will do the job more efficiently and faster? Will we become disconnected from the world around us, seeing only destinations, and never the journey – much as many of us already do in sl? And will our world, despite its fecundity and our ability to explore it in its entirety become a simple list of landmarks and waypoints… a world that can be condensed into half a dozen favourite places… a world that is smaller than ever before?
Of all the possibilities that sl hints at, the means to teleport is perhaps the one i desire the most, but perhaps it’s the one thing we should never be allowed to possess?
Flying across the country
And getting fat
Saying everything is groovy
When your tyres are flat
Jeff Beck – Hi Ho Silver Lining