After first describing examining some of the hoary cultural critiques of commuting (“dragged out of sleep at six every morning, jolted about in suburban trains” and “tossed out at the end of the day into the entrance halls of railway stations, those cathedrals of departure for the hell of weekdays,” went one 1968 screed), Moran then goes on to wonder about the psychic value of the daily grind:
“The academic Eva Illouz invented the phrase “cold intimacies” to describe this culture in which emotional literacy is prized, pop psychology defines our identities, and our workplaces stress the importance of empathy and consensus.
We live in a world, Illouz writes, that is “Rousseauian with a vengeance”, in which our “emotions have become entities to be evaluated, inspected, discussed, bargained, quantified, and commodified”. Perhaps, then, we have learnt to welcome the commute as a neutral space where we can escape this obligation to be permanently available to others, and where an informal public life can flourish, without the emotional demands of work or home.”
Further, he notes, there is something to be marveled at in the sheer logistics of it all:
“Amid all the justified moaning about jams and delays, it is worth remembering that this rush-hour movement of 36 million Britons each day is really a miracle of controlled chaos. The National Travel Survey found that more than half of commuters, both in cars and public transport, have no problems with their daily journey. And even the large minority that do have problems generally arrive at work on time and in one piece, without murdering each other.”
He concludes with a curious detail:
“One of my students told me that in Second Life, that virtual world online, no one uses the roads or railways because they can simply teleport to their destinations. Nothing comes between the cyber-citizens and their real estate; commuting has been abolished. And part of me thought: what sort of life is that?”