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Saturday, 11 December, 1999, 08:14 GMT
Hypermobility: The road to ruin

Source: Prof John Adams
Muriel Fulford died last month at her home in Shrewton, Wiltshire aged 98.

While there was nothing unusual in that, what made the headlines was the fact that during her entire life she only once ventured more than 10 miles from Shrewton.

In the age of motorways, intercontinental air travel and the Channel Tunnel, it seems amazing for someone today to live such a homebound life.

Mobility is liberating and empowering. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing

Prof John Adams
Indeed, nowadays the average Briton travels 28 miles a day and this is forecast to double by 2025.

But while travel has soared over the years, are we better off for it?

While we can hop on a plane to Australia, how well do we know our next-door neighbours?

Professor John Adams of University College, London, says that we have entered into the world of "hypermobility" in which the quality of life is being left on the hard shoulder.

He said in a report for the Organisation for Economic Development that society will become:

  • more polarised between rich and poor

    "All those too young or old or otherwise disqualified from driving will get left behind, along with those too poor to afford cars and plane tickets.

    "They will become second class citizens dependent for their mobility on the withered remains of public transport or the good-will of car owners."

  • more anonymous and less convivial

    Neighbourhood Watch: "Angst of anomie"
    "Fewer people will know their neighbours. Gated communities and Neighbourhood Watch - the attempted recreation of what used to happen naturally - are symptomatic of the angst of anomie."

  • more crime ridden as society is polarised

    "People, especially women, will retreat from the areas where they feel threatened, especially the streets and public transport, and motorists will increasingly travel with their doors locked.

  • less culturally varied

    "The McCulture will be further advanced. Tom Wolfe captures the phenomenon in A Man in Full: 'the only way you could tell you were leaving one community and entering another was when the franchises started repeating and you spotted another 7-Eleven, another Wendy's, another Costco, another Home Depot'."

  • more dangerous for those not in cars

    Shrinking the world: Concorde
    "There will be more metal in motion. Streets are so dangerous that children are not allowed out any more.

    "As traffic increases, fewer people try to cross the street. One of the reasons why diminishing numbers of people know their neighbours on the other side of the street."

  • and fatter and less fit.

    "We will have less exercise built into daily routines. This is a trend that appears to be being partially offset by the growing numbers of people who drive to health clubs to run on treadmills."

    But hey, what about all that stuff about travel broadening the mind - it can't be that bad can it?

    The philosopher Aristotle used to tramp the Lyceum as he taught.

    Movement loosens the mind according to all those who pace their office or go off for a lunchtime jog.

    And on long journeys, shifting views can melt everyday concerns into nothing.

    Travel writer Bruce Chatwin said in his novel The Songlines that the rhythm of walking eased his flow of thoughts.

    Restlessness, he claimed, was the mark of an inquiring mind.

    Mover and thinker: Aristotle
    And what kind of tale would the ancient mariner have had to tell had he not set sail in the first place?

    Chatwin said that travel doesn't just broaden the mind, "it makes the mind".

    But while travelling may help you "find yourself", mass tourism can destroy local habitats, ways of life and wildlife.

    Prof Adams said: "Mobility is liberating and empowering. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

    "The huge growth in the numbers exercising their freedom is fouling the planet."

    Perhaps the answer is, like Miss Fulford, to stay put.

    According to reports, her first experience of travelling beyond walking distance of her village - at the age of 96 - left her wide-eyed, but not regretful.

    The E-cyclopedia can be contacted at

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