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The World is a Book: St. Augustine

Saint Augustine of Hippo (present-day Algeria) lived from 354 to 430 CE and is the source of one of the most well-known quotes about travel. “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” The grand-daddy of all famous travel quotes is Lao Tzu’s eminently quotable “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Of course, at the times these quotes were made, travel was expensive and perilous. Today hordes of innocents travel far afield armed with little more than a credit card and, perhaps most hazardous, an overdraft on their bank accounts at home. Paradoxically, the hazards of travel are global and impersonal. A single intercontinental jet flight can cause as much CO2 emissions (1 ton) as a year of driving (around 12,000 km) an average car.

However, in today’s interconnected world, it simply won’t do to live life on a single page. Recently, when contemplating an intercontinental journey from Europe to Asia, I explored the possibility of taking ‘a slow boat to China,’ and discovered that travel on an assortment of cargo ships was possible, only the journey would take three months and cost around US $10,000 instead of 15 hours and $1000 by plane. So what is a globally responsible citizen to do? The incipient wanderlust of early childhood was stimulated decades ago by my grandfather’s collection of bound volumes of National Geographic Magazine filled with travel descriptions and black and white photos from the 1920s and 1930s; from that glorious age when there were still many unknown parts of the world and when the bulk of humanity still lived a single-page existence. Today, billions of people live confused and deracinated lives because the bulk of their multi-page wisdom and experience comes from, or is filtered by, television.

Around the turn of the millenium (that was only 15 years ago), National Geographic offered a 110-year archive of  issues on CD that was bought by aspiring world (armchair) travellers. The software was clunky and time-consuming to use, and the operating systems quickly became outdated (anyone with a Windows NT operating system is welcome to my 1999 NatGeo CD collection).  The email offer from National Geographic received today for online access to 125 years of the magazine holds the promise of longer accessibility than the CD-ROM version. As the quote on the desk of a professional archivist I know says: Electronic archives are good for eternity or five years, whichever comes first.

Here is the link. The archive is free for a limited time.