“Modern literary theory sees a similarity between walking and writing that I find persuasive: words inscribe a text in the same way that a walk inscribes space. In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau writes, ‘The act of walking … is a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian, it is a special acting-out of the place … and it implies relations among differentiated positions.’ I think this is a fancy way of saying that writing is one way of making the world our own, and walking is another.” – Geoff Nicholson, The Lost Art Of Walking.
Walking is critical to thinking, yet we are an increasingly sedentary society. Let’s move, think, wander. There is language and brilliance in movement, in walking and exploring.
As Austin Kleon says: “you are a mashup of what you let into your life,” – so I’ve designed an event series around spending time walking and talking with a small group of people with the purpose of exploring different conversations and new spaces. The ideas will be loosely related to a particular topic, with suggested readings each week, but people are free to wander off point and engage in their own imaginations.
There are several reasons why walking is conducive to better thinking, from the positioning of our bodies in space, the the idea of a destination, to the elevation of our heart rates to 100-110 beats per minute. When you design scenarios that enable trust — and walking with friends can be designed to create a space of safety and exploration — the ideas and innovations and possibilities that result can be astounding. And sometimes, you just need to walk it out. Just as the peripatetic philosophers did years ago, let’s engage in a short walk and ask good, hard, interesting questions.
WALK + TALK: An Adventure Series
The walk+talk group was spear headed in San Francisco, California, and is a growing group of philosopher-wanderers who gather to muse about the future of the world, modern issues, and other topics at hand. Each walk, a new theme is put forward, with suggested reading passed around in the group. For examples from the last sets, see below.
If you’re in San Francisco, ask about next event or email me to find out more–I tend to keep the groups very small, so space is limited. The idea, however, is free. Walking and talking are inherently human activities and no one owns them. Please take them and build your own: the world needs more walkers.
Thoughts on creating your own community:
- Start with a small group, or invite people on a one-on-one to walk with you.
- Instead of suggesting a coffee or lunch meeting, suggest a walking meeting.
- Make it a regular or repeating activity – once a month is a good frequency to start with.
- Ask for feedback, and let the group evolve over time.
- I typically plan my walks for 2.5 hours – a half hour to let the group gather and assemble; 15-20 minutes of brief introductions (name, what you enjoy doing/your hobbies, another intro question); an hour to an hour and a half of walking; a 15-20 minutes of re-grouping at the end.
- Watch for the natural rhythms of conversation and walking: people tend to walk for 20 minutes, and then pause, which is true for conversations as well. Let this happen naturally.
- People will spread out and walk at different paces. In my groups of 12, people will separate into pairs of groups of 3-4 to talk about ideas. Let the accordion of walkers expand, and then contract over time and space.
- Print out a map if you’re going somewhere complicated; or, let people wander and give them a time to return to a gathering spot.
- Finish with a bite of food, and some sort of reflection question: ask people what they enjoyed about it, what they learned, what they liked.
- If it’s a new group of people, make sure to send out their emails and names afterwards so people can connect and continue conversations later.
- Enjoy yourself!
If you’d like to do your own walk and talk, here are some of my previous resource sets for your use:
RESOURCE SETS FOR CONVERSATION.
01 – Connectivity, Disconnection, and the Art of Conversation:
- Richard Wurman (Founder of the TED series) on the lost art of conversation and information anxiety.
- The Atlantic: Is Facebook making us lonely?
- Slate’s Rebuttal: The Atlantic story is all wrong
- The New York Times: The flight from conversation
- Shelley Ambrose on TED: The Importance of Conversation
- The Social Animal, book excerpt; and then followed by the New York Times Book Review
02 – On Walking and Ambulation:
I’m puzzled and excited by the response to the walk and talk — people love it, people ask about it. It’s causing me to wonder: how often do we walk? How much are we walking? Why aren’t we walking? And why has this changed? I walk every day, sometimes two to four miles a day. On top of that, I run. I must move. It’s not a question about my being; it’s how I must exist, how I must think. It’s so integral to my thinking and being that I can’t not do it. I’ve lived in cities (mostly) for the last 8 years, and in that time, I’ve spent most of that time not owning a car — and using my own energy and power to get me from place to place, at least on a daily basis. Some trips require additional fuel.
As I tease out these questions — about the connection between mobility and thinking; between sensory stimulation, low-level heart rate and happiness; between cities, urbanity, density and health; between spontaneity and serendipity; about the relationship between communication during adventure and friendship; between different types of movement and thinking; about what it means to be human; — I realize how complicated and how lovely all of this is.
Today, I looked at what it means to walk, and the language we use when we walk. Here’s two of my favorites–an essay series by Tom Vanderbilt, and the book”The Lost Art Of Walking,” by Geoff Nicholson. Reviews are below. I’ll transcribe a copy of one of my favorite sections of the book in a separate document.
- The Crisis in American Walking; How we got off the pedestrian path- a four-part series in Slate, by Tom Vanderbilt:
“If we were to find ourselves out hiking on a forest trail and spied someone approaching at a distance, he wanted to know, would we think to ourselves, “Here comes a pedestrian”? Of course we wouldn’t. That approaching figure would simply be a person. Pedestrian is a word born from opposition to other modes of travel; the Latin pedester, on foot, gained currency by its semantic tension with equester, on horse. But there is an implied—indeed, synonymous—pejorative. This dates from Ancient Greece. As the Oxford English Dictionary notes, the Greek πεζός meant “prosaic, plain, commonplace, uninspired (sometimes contrasted with the winged flight of Pegasus).” Or, in the Latin, pedester could refer to foot soldiers (e.g, peons), “rather than cavalry.”In other words, not to be on a horse, flying or otherwise, was to be utterly unremarkable and mundane. To this day, Ronkin was intimating, the word pedestrian bears not only that slightly alien whiff, but the scars of condescension.”
“… Which is what walking in America has become: An act dwelling in the margins, an almost hidden narrative running beneath the main vehicular text. Indeed, the semantics of the term pedestrian would be a mere curiosity, but for one fact: America is a country that has forgotten how to walk.”
From The Economist’s Review: “The best thing about walking is that you are your own boss: start and halt, look at everything or nothing, think about a lot or a little. And nobody (except perhaps a suspicious LA cop) will stop you.”