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Let’s talk about:

  1. Why answering “where are you from?” can cause such discomfort/emotional strife/existential angst
  2. The calculus of Belonging
  3. The extent to which we can/should anthropomorphize places and whether it’s useful to think of our relationships to places in similar terms to those we use for people.

I’ll go first.

  1. I feel the same way you do when people ask me this question, as well as when they ask about my favorite movie, band, poet, whatever. The reason we all ask these ice-breaker questions is because we’re all opaque blocks of ice to each other until we open our mouths and allow the reduction of possibilities to chisel us into digestible approximations of ourselves for one another. And rather than insecurity about having your taste in art or knowledge of pop culture found wanting by a stranger, the inability to answer questions like these is probably more troubling because of what it reveals about us to ourselves. When you think about questions about books and places as meaning “what do you care about?” or “which place is most rife with emotion and meaning to you?”, and then you can’t find a ready answer, it feels like all of a sudden a giant hole has opened in your chest, or your face. The discomfort of grappling with the ignorance of your own identity turns you into swiss cheese before the eyes of some stranger who just asked you a seemingly simple question. While it’s true that having a “place” has been the main way people defined themselves for a long time (certainly long before politics or marketing or the Insane Clown Posse ever existed), it’s also true that nomads, hobos, poets and astrophysicists have showed us that that “place” can encompass an area as vast as the entire cosmos, or as small as your skull.
  2. So, is “home” simply the place currently at the top of a hierarchical list of relationships with places? How do we even define or measure our relationship to a place? People + Geography x Time = ?
  3. Since people make up such a large part of our connection to a place, it makes sense that we could apply the symbiotic relationship between us and any single individual to the place itself. We have connections to places based on familiarity, time spent together, as well as their connection to other people/places/things we care about; these relationships can also change based on any number of forces acting on one or both parties at any given time. Unfortunately, in this kind of framework places are also become vulnerable to the pitfalls and limitations of human relationships. Imagine if the question “where are you from?” was “who is your best friend?” For people who are born, grow up, and live in the same place, the answer to this question is probably not too difficult either. But what if you’ve affected and have been affected by a wide range of different places and people? How do you roll up all of those experiences and changes of varying depth and intensity and come up with an answer? Is it possible to have multiple homes at the same time? Are all of our relationships, be they with places or people, just a bunch of spinning plates that begin teetering towards destruction as soon as we divert our time and attention away from them? There is unquestionably an upper limit to the number of relationships human beings can reasonably sustain, but regardless of whether it’s 150 or 15, does each new relationship — and its demands on our and attention — necessarily mean that the other relationships suffer as a result? That Dataclysm dude emphasizes how the way networks (both socially and mechanically) are structured is just as important as the elements that make them up. In that case, given the geographic distance between the people and places that often constitute our “homes” does the technology that acts as the architect of our intimacies succeed in preserving these connections, or simply slow the rate at which they decay? Is that the best we can hope for?
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