This post originally appeared on a previous personal blog. I’m republishing it here with the original post date.
A long time ago I began to play with the image of something like a string trailing behind us wherever we went, from birth to death. If we could see these strings, we could see every path we’ve taken, every place we’ve ever been. Single strands describing unique journeys, and great, thick cables showing our habitual movements. In rural areas, the strings might still be sparse. Up in the mountains or out at sea, we might see only that which trails behind us. But in cities, they would twist and tangle and pile up in unimaginable complexity. I often visualize this here in Shanghai, especially on crowded subway trains (the subway here has a daily ridership of over 8 million) and when taking morning walks through crowded market streets. I imagine it while wandering between the aging apartment blocks surrounding my own building, where I see laundry hanging from utility lines and families stacked so close together that apartment walls seem little more than a formality.
I think we’ve all seen long-exposure photographs of a busy highway, where headlights and taillights streak into long blurs tracing the paths followed by each vehicle. When I imagine peoples’ paths, it’s something like that, only it’s all in motion all the time. I’m sure my long-standing obsession with the film Koyaanisqatsi has something to do with that.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, too, in response to my sister having a baby. I now have a little niece, and I wonder what her path will be. What curious route will her string of experience describe?