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STSC Trains Symposium
This essay was written for the Soaring Twenties Social Club Symposium. Each month STSC members create something around a theme - this month it was “Trains”.
This piece is about trains and so it's only fitting to start writing it on a train from a swing dance festival.
Trains are special. They have always brought peace to me. Since Czechia has one of the densest train networks in the world, it's small wonder I've spent countless hours on trains, going distances both small and vast.
Like I said, trains are special. All kinds of people simply sit down in a metal tube and let themselves be transported through time and space, flying through the landscape at astonishing speeds.
But besides the technological wonder that trains represented (and that we tend to overlook nowadays), there is another kind of specialness to them. When you're on a train, you're exactly where you need to be. You're going somewhere you decided, and at the same time, you don't have control over the speed or the route. Once you're on a train, your direction is set. You sit and watch, or talk, or read... This kind of constraint to our possible actions is rare today.
Yet, some things have changed about these magic mechanical metal tubes. Most trains now have wifi and that means that the very special simplicity is less special than it used to be. (Fortunately, the train I'm on doesn't have wifi so I'm doing something other than mindless browsing.)
Now you can do all the other things you used to not be able to do on the train. Open website, no, open another website, answer an email, watch a video, maybe let's see a movie, wait, I wanted to buy shoes,... or did I? Even on a train now, we have limitless choices that in the end only serve to create a background buzz of constant anxiety.
And so the sacred space of the train has been desecrated. Yet more boundaries were removed by technology. Arguably, boundaries that used to keep us sane.
All of that is to say that perhaps next time you find yourself on a train (or bus or plane, for that matter), don't connect to the wifi. Just stare out of the window, at least for half an hour. Let yourself be transported to the simplicity of the 1800s just for a moment. Watch the landscape and clouds roll by and transform under your gaze. Watch as you go from hills to plains and back to hills, follow meandering rivers with your gaze, go through tunnels, enjoy the view from the bridges. You travel faster and smoother than most people throughout history ever have, enjoy that for a moment. If you get bored, exercise some of the old fashioned travel choices: talking to the person next to you, reading, journalling, resting,...
Trains bring peace,
it's that simple and plain.
For but a moment,
let them constrain your brain,
deign from tech to abstain,
and you'll stay sound and sane.