Infrastructure and the convergence of the global human footprint

Like a lot of people, I’ve been having some fun with GeoGuesser, and I have to say, except in situations where location is really obvious (like Ireland, where the signs were all for O’Reilly, Flanagan, O’Connell etc.), I am appallingly bad at this game. Like, tens of thousands of kms off. Sometimes it’s just unfair – a dirt track in Canada is essentially indistinguishable from a dirt track in Siberia – but in others, given that I am primarily making guesses based on the quality of infrastructure and what scenery there is, I am incredibly, incredibly off.

Which is interesting, because this isn’t a Western/Anglo bias (or at least not solely) – having driven through a large portion of US Interstate Highways, I am fully aware of the state of deterioration that some of the US roads finds themselves in. But the degree of similarity, from high way to highway, and the quality of roads even in third-world countries, was a bit surprising.

Secondly, the degree of overlap between Mexico and California, in terms of the structure of cities and appearance of sidestreets, was pretty surprising, even though I’ve seen it in person and up close.

Overall, the degree of my confusion, while certainly potentially due to ignorance, also suggests an acceleration of the global convergence of infrastructure. Fifteen years ago, when I lived in Eastern Europe, this was not yet the case; Soviet streets were notoriously badly built and susceptible to heat and wear, and of course the difference in building material quality and design was also marked. And, certainly, in some places of the world (usually in rural areas), there are still stark differences in quality, but these differences are universal, applying as much within countries as outside of them. To a degree, of course, rural roads in the US should be higher-quality than rural roads in, say, India, but this is not always the case any more.

Maybe this is belaboring the point a bit, but it’s interesting to see these trends from the outside, as a visitor to this planet (as opposed to a native) might – perhaps we are approaching a true confluence in the human experience, and a global cultural point of convergence, through the realities of best practice and shared environmental factors. Given that infrastructure provides the basis for much of the human experience, in terms of availability and export of goods, flow of investment and distribution of culture (in particular via the internet), the positive side of the convergence is exciting. But significant investment is needed if the wear and tear and rising ruin of the rural networks are to be prevented from plunging our backcountry areas – the world over – into a sort of 21st-century dark ages.

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