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The slow death of purposeless walking (2014) (bbc.co.uk)
229 points by darrhiggs on May 16, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 162 comments

There were times in my life (thesis writing) where I'd go and sit in the library all day to work and come home in the early evening. The psychological stress on me during that time was tremendous. Every evening, after coming home, I'd have a small dinner and then go for a one-hour walk, always the same route. At that time, I lived in a small town, and my route would take me down a dead-end street, across another one, and then on to the fields where there weren't any cars and hardly any people. Just a wide space with a bit of a view. This was usually just before sunset. Continuing on, I would eventually get back to a different part of the town I lived, I had to climb up some stairs and walk through a quiet neighborhood before getting back to my own street. All in all, it took around one hour to walk that way.

I believe that this process really helped me save my sanity during that time of extended mental stress. I could literally air our my brain, and also get some mild physical activity after sitting in the library all day. I tried really hard not to think about my thesis, but just to take in the scenery, the light, the wind. Sometimes it rained. It was really healthy.

In contrast, I remember a former co-worker telling me about a road trip they once did. I think it was in Arizona, but I might be wrong. Anyway, after driving for many hours, they decided to take a break and just to walk down the road for a few minutes before hitting the road again.

So they pulled over and started walking. Sure enough, in no time, they get stopped by the cops who inquire what the heck the are doing! They weren't walking on the road or in any otherwise dangerous fashion -- but apparently in that area, just being out and about on foot was enough of a reason to be considered suspicious. :-)

If someone gets out of their car in the middle of nowhere and starts walking, it's fairly possible that they've broken down or run out of fuel, in which case the police could help them out.

I don't know how the interaction in question went, but it's possible they were just interpreting an earnestly concerned police officer as suspicious because of a (justifiable) distrust of police.

Maybe this is my Northwestern showing but as a (nearly)lifer of the Pacific Northwest, I can honestly say that if I see someone walking, I assume they're out for a walk even when I lived in a town of 2500. I imagine this is the privilege of living somewhere known for natural beauty because I think "Why wouldn't you want to be outside?"

It's fascinating to read about inherent fear of being questioned. I don't think its ever crossed my mind, and its not uncommon to see cars parked along side random roads all through Oregon and Washington. I guess I'm lucky in this regard.

HN is full of people who are paranoid about the NSA, CIA, FBI, and local police department. Right or wrong, I don't think it's representative of the attitude general population.

To quote Nirvana: Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't after you.

I wouldn't say the general population trust police officers. Being able to trust the police is a form of privilege that minorities, the poor, etc. often don't have. Most individuals from an upper-middle class background don't have reason to distrust the government.

The people on HN are probably an exception. I think perception of law enforcement depends largely on whether a person has found the authority figures in their life to be benevolent or malicious. Authority figures, especially law enforcement, tend to view those outside the norm with suspicion.

Reminds me of this story


> Eller writes that Bradbury's inspiration for the story came when he was walking down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles with a friend sometime in late 1949. On their walk, a police cruiser pulled up and asked what they were doing. Bradbury answered, "Well, we're putting one foot in front of the other." The policemen didn't appreciate Ray's joke and became suspicious of Bradbury and his friend for walking in an area where there were no pedestrians. Using this experience as inspiration he wrote "The Pedestrian", which he sent to his New York agent Don Congdon in March 1950. According to Eller, "[the story's] composition in the early months of 1950 predates Bradbury's conception of 'The Fireman,'" the short novella that would later evolve into Fahrenheit 451.[2]

This happened to me in a small rural town in Iowa in 2013. It was so rare to see a younger guy in a hoodie walking around my parents' neighborhood that residents called the police. I was taken back to my parents house in the back of a squad car to "verify my identity". I was curtly informed that "just going for a walk" was probably not a good idea.

I have never felt more dystopian.

talk to your local volunteer politicians, you know, the ones on your town council, who may well be ex hippies, or at least understand what you are concerned about.

Nice story, it also reminds me that Farenheit 451 also featured the protagonist walking when everyone else is driving so it must have made an impact on him.

"but apparently in that area, just being out and about on foot was enough of a reason to be considered suspicious."

Maybe, this is an American thing. Some colleagues of me explain how, in a job trip to Atlanta, they decide to go back to the hotel walking. They could see the hotel from where they were, so, why not?

Sure enough, the police stopped them and wanted to know what was wrong.

They have a lot of fun explaining it.

Sometimes police will stop people who look the complete opposite of suspicious just to make sure they don't need help.

Yeah... but because they are walking..

I think that say something about how the city is designed.

Younger US cities aren't designed for walking so yes it looks weird when you're walking around.

I don't know anything about Atlanta but in Arizona, per parent comment's story, for example, it's strange to see people walking around because it's way too hot in 80% of the state to walk around for leisure. On top of that, the towns are so spread out that it makes no sense to walk from point A to point B.

So if people are walking around, they're doing so aimlessly in a climate that is not really conducive to doing so. It seems reasonable to think they're either in trouble or up to trouble.

>I don't know anything about Atlanta but in Arizona, per parent comment's story, for example, it's strange to see people walking around because it's way too hot in 80% of the state to walk around for leisure.

I don't think it has anything to do with the temperature.

You see tons of people walking around in cities in equally hot or hotter climates, from Cairo to the tropics...

EDIT: Leaving my comment for posterity, but on second thought with a bit of reframing, I think you're right. If it weren't quite as hot out, people probably still wouldn't walk around all that much. This can probably be attributed to the horrible experiment that is The American Suburb.

ORIGINAL: You're overlooking a lot of important factors.

Distance: I highly doubt people in Cairo are walking 10+ miles to the nearest market.

Attire: If walking around in the summer in Arizona raises suspicion, I cringe to imagine what suspicions would be raised by doing so in long flowing robes that cover skin head to toe.

Sweat: In my experience in the tropics, being a bit sweaty is quite normal and acceptable. In The South (the southeast) it seems more acceptable, but in the dry Arizona desert, it's not quite normal to be drenched in sweat.

Air conditioning: AC is everywhere in Arizona. As such, the mode of survival is getting from AC to AC as quickly as possible. If AC weren't everywhere, people would probably find sweat more acceptable, but... it is.

Skin tone: I'm pasty white and was born and raised in Arizona. In my travels to the tropics I never once ran into a person as white as me who enjoyed walking in the heat.

All of these together make walking pretty rare. Sure, if people didn't have another option besides walking you'd have a population of fit, well-tanned Arizonians all over the streets. Markets would probably be built closer to homes and suburbs would shrink. People wouldn't need cars and would probably be more comfortable without AC 24/7. As a result, a bit of sweatiness would come to be expected and wouldn't be a source of self-awareness. But that's not the reality of that region.

The whole point is that walking is seen as highly unusual. We understand that the reason is poor city planning. We don't need to empathize with the cop. It's just ridiculous it's gotten to this point.

The only parts of cities like that that are actually "designed" are the downtown and a few special developments. The rest just grows as people move and buy land and open businesses.

Most people drive cars, and most people prefer having some room to breathe, and there's no shortage of space, so lots are made big enough to have parking and empty space, etc.

There's not some kind of anti-walking design conspiracy here.

This is incorrect. American cities are usually designed around car dominance, at the expense of walking. Examples include:

- Primary metric for road design and evaluation being "level of service", which means "how many cars can move through here in a given period of time". Pedestrians are second-class citizens.

- Minimum parking requirements subsidize car use and make urban environments pedestrian-unfriendly by spreading out points of interest.

- Zoning regulations mandating that most of a city's residential area consist of detached single-family homes on large lots, mixed-use generally limited or non-existent.

- Under-investment in transit (transit use is generally paired with walking at the start and end).

- Freeways running all the way into and through cities split urban areas into sections that are difficult to navigate between by walking.

I could go on and on about how American cities are hostile to walking, but that covers some of the big ones. It's true that these decisions have or had popular support, so it's not a conspiracy, but it was certainly designed.

That stop is illegal under Terry if the police lack reasonable suspicion that the person is both armed and presently dangerous.

I'd guess that in the context the parent is talking about, "stop" just means driving up and talking to them, not actively detaining them.

Yes, this is what I meant.

Really depends where you are walking in Atlanta and if you look out of place. Where they walking in the road or look confused?

Certain areas can be no loitering zones. Other areas are known drug zones and you can be arrested for going there without a clear purpose.

>Other areas are known drug zones and you can be arrested for going there without a clear purpose.

How could this be a lawful arrest?

Let's say your a drug addict but don't happen to have anything on you, they look you up and your background has prior arrest for drugs. Maybe you look like your on drugs and have all the tell tale signs. In this case your gonna go to jail.

What if you're a tourist or someone who got lost trying to go to find Ikea. They would hassle you and most likely give you a lecture then lead you out of the area.

These types of areas have signs. If you are interested why they have such areas watch Snow on the Bluff, it's a very accurate depiction.

> Maybe you look like your on drugs and have all the tell tale signs. In this case your gonna go to jail.

Wait, the illegal possesion laws extend to the drugs being already in your blood?

Public intoxication is a crime.

About 10 years ago myself and a few co-workers (from Canada) travelled to Wilmington, Delaware on business. We check in to a hotel in downtown Wilmington and inquired as to the nearest restaurant. We were given some pointers, told it wasn't too far, and decided to walk. It was after business hours and the streets were pretty deserted, no cars or pedestrians. 10 minutes later a police cruiser pulls up besides us and the policemen inside inquire to what we're up to and then inform us this isn't a safe place to be walking around and tell us to head back to our hotel. After that they pulled up in front of some random house and one policeman was taking cover behind the cruiser while another was knocking on the door. Both of them had their hands on their guns as far as I recall.

Anyhow, we ended up eating in the hotel...

Walking in the USA. :)

That said there are cities or at least parts of cities in the US that are no problem. I've walked around San Francisco, New York City, Seattle amongst others and always felt perfectly safe. I think one big factor is public transport. If you have public transport you have people walking; at least to it and back.

There are parts of downtown Atlanta that are dangerous to walk in, especially at night. The police may have thought the colleagues needed help.

A guy I went to high school with is in the process of walking across the United States. He's pushing his gear in a cart that looks like a baby carriage. His first week on the road, someone frantically called the cops to report a man walking down the road with a dead baby in a stroller.

I think you may be referring to this guy. He did an AMA on reddit [1]. He also posts updates on his instagram[2].

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/4iqo3g/im_the_guy_wal...

[2] https://www.instagram.com/bendoeslife/

Different dude... This guy is going the opposite direction. Good guy going on a pretty neat adventure.


Man, how many people are doing this? There was a guy on the Something Awful forums who tried this, but his cart was a tow-behind bicycle trailer that he was pushing by hand and a wheel broke after less than 20 miles... also he hadn't been eating anything so he called an Uber and went home. It's probably for the best because his route took him through Nevada and New Mexico in the height of summer.

Does your friend also cite Hobo Nick as inspiration?

>walking across the United States

Long back I had read an article or series in National Geographic about an American who did that - walked from coast to coast. Great story.

Probably https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Walk_Across_America :

> Walk Across America is a nonfiction travel book first published in 1979. It was the first book written by travel author Peter Jenkins, with support from the National Geographic Society. The book depicts his journey from Alfred, New York to New Orleans, Louisiana. While upon his journey of self-discovery, he surmounted the travails of travel, engaged himself in others' lives, lost his best friend, experienced a religious conversion, and courted a new wife.

I read that Wikipedia page you linked to, and others linked from it. Interesting stuff. The info about "The Farm" :) (where Jenkins stayed for a while) and "The Publishing Company" run by The Farm made for nice reading about alternative / appropriate tech, etc. People were doing this years ago. I've mentioned this in a few forums, about people like E. F. Schumacher. Done a bit of it myself, like biogas plants, organic gardening, etc.

Cool. I think it is the same person.

> Sure enough, in no time, they get stopped by the cops who inquire what the heck the are doing! They weren't walking on the road or in any otherwise dangerous fashion -- but apparently in that area, just being out and about on foot was enough of a reason to be considered suspicious. :-)

...and sometimes this attitude of "people who are walking around are suspicious" can lead to pretty dire consequences if your skin is the wrong color: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/indian-grandfather...

In parts New Mexico and Texas, if you're driving and see someone walking, it's considered proper to stop and ask if he's hydrated. Never mind whether he has a reason to be walking there.

One hour of above moderate walk will do wonders. If you have subtly wild natural spots to go through, it's guaranteed. Japanese researchers are looking into the benefits of forest walking. There's a subtle complexity in non human processed places that tickle our senses in deep ways. It's as stressing as massaging.

I was jet lagged at a resort hotel in Tucson, and decided to walk to a Starbucks at 4 am in the morning. It took around 3 hours (I misjudged the distance) on partially rural desert roads, beautiful stars at that time in the morning with tall cactus silhouettes in the background (was close to the mountains, while Tucson is very good about keeps light pollution down). No police, but the walk back was a pain with the Arizona sun out by then.

If I would see some dudes walking along the road in nowhere, I would probably also stop and ask if everything was ok, or call the cops.

In college (small Texas city), I lived in an apartment just catty-corner to the university, but some parts of it lacked a sidewalk (though still had a curb). When taking the 10-minute walk home, some people would stop and assume I needed a ride!

Walking meditation is a thing. I found it highly effective in my life and a big part of why I'm an avid hiker/backpacker enthusiast.

> But are people losing their love of the purposeless walk?

BBC Magazine strikes again.

No, they're not losing it, it's not "slowly dying". Did "people" at large ever have that? Having the time and energy to go aimlessly wandering was a luxurious privilege until very recently. If anything, the existence of "[a] number of recent books [that] have lauded the connection between walking - just for its own sake - and thinking" would suggest that walking is enjoying a renaissance - this time for the masses.

> Many now walk and text at the same time. There's been an increase in injuries to pedestrians in the US attributed to this. One study suggested texting even changed the manner in which people walked.

> It's not just texting. This is the era of the "smartphone map zombie" - people who only take occasional glances away from an electronic routefinder to avoid stepping in anything or being hit by a car.

This is pure Marie Antoinette. 200 years ago, peasants would only glance up from their plows to avoid hitting a rock in the field, or whatever, and surely the savants of the time deplored that as well.

Here's a thought: Most people walking around in the city aren't out on an Dickensque intellectually stimulating aimless wander, they're not out to tread a deep mental path in the words of Thoreau, they are in transit between two places, we could vulgarly call them "work" and "home", and the transit bit is an undesired period of downtime. You'll have to be an intellectual to problematise their choice of filling that period with something else than romantic observation of the very same surroundings they look at twice daily for years.

> Having the time and energy to go aimlessly wandering was a luxurious privilege until very recently

You just made this up....

Firstly, you have never been around since the beginning of humans, and secondly, you haven't even read any history books if you think humans have always been extremely busy and that somehow they are not now.

The opposite is actually true. Humans have had a lot more free time in the past. It is easy to find this information out on the internet. Humans were estimated to only work about 3 hours per day in some time periods. In others they had months at a time off.

Yeah. A political scientist I know told me that at some points in Catholic history people had almost 1/3rd of the year off. I couldn't find a reference for that, but this site indicates about 1/4 of the year off as leisure time:

"Altogether there were about 80 days of complete rest with over 70 partial holidays, that is, about three months of rest spread over the year."


Not sure about the veracity of that site, but that kind of leisure time is in keeping with much western history that I've read. Looking at a timeline, the Protestant work ethic seems to have played a pretty big role in shifting the work/leisure balance more towards work.

In the modern day, most jobs have ~100 days of complete rest (weekends), plus about 6 bank holidays, and if you took your PTO as half days, another 20-30 days of partial rest (if you get 10-15 days of PTO). That's not quite as much (20 fewer partial days, or 10 days less of time off), but you also likely have some reasonable expectation of not being required to work more then ~10 hours per day, which wasn't necessarily true historically.

Unofficially, there was also good ol' Saint Monday.


A popular past time in the medieval era was to go on a pilgrimage. Something like 1/2 the population in some areas went on at least one pilgrimage in their lives.

Absolutely. I recommend GP reads some Thomas Hardy to get a sense of what you mean. Back before the industrial revolution the lower classes would work 'enough' to sustain themselves.

You are both centering your argument about whether or not people used to walk more or less than they do now. You are not presenting any more evidence than BBC did.

The BBC are the ones writing the damn article about the supposed trend, I'd say it's their responsibility to provide evidence.

> Dickensque

The word you're looking for is https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Dickensian

I'm not sure it was even popular for the American well-off (upper middle-class). In Mad Men, I remember them making a point of the characters ridiculing a woman who said she liked to take walks (though she was abnormal in other ways, like being divorced).

(I know it's not top-grade historic research, but they tried to highlight what was known about the 60s, and this matches the environment that inspired Bradbury's story about it.)

They made fun of her because they were all hyper focused on business. To do anything aimlessly, including walking, was basically burning money.

It was the stay-at-home housewives criticizing her though, who did a ton of aimless stuff themselves.

One of my favourite pastimes is walking, I do it daily. I'm also mostly thinking while doing it.

I walk aimlessly from time to time, but I don't see that many people do it. There are far more people that do it in other countries, and I assume that was the case in the United States earlier.

The aimless walk seems alive and well in most of the major cities I've been to. Get up before noon and talk a walk and the streets are filled with people strolling along with babies, walking dogs, or just hanging out with someone.

It's pretty much dead in the suburbs. I only see people with dogs and babies. At this point it gains an aim and ceases being aimless.

I'll accept your point about walking a dog, as it's often functional, i.e., just long enough to let them pee or poop, and the walker is often glued to their phone.

But why does strolling a baby or walking with a child necessarily "gain an aim"?

I'm asking because much of my walking is with my 2yo daughter, and I'd classify it as aimless walking. We'll just stroll around our neighborhood, taking whatever path strikes our fancy, and talk about the things we see: birds, squirrels, odd shaped leaves, puddles, people doing yard work – or just walk in silence and enjoy the fresh air. I guess I have the "aim" of getting a little physical activity and getting away from the distractions of technology, but if you dig deep enough, everything has a purpose – even if it's just to do something purposeless for a while.

You can say you're walking your child. I want to see people just walking for relaxation.

There's a lot to be said about the poor design of suburbs.

In Ireland, strolling through cemeteries was a common weekend pastime in the pre-war era. I remember as a kid in the 80s you'd see old people and asian people strolling around after dinner. Now my block is pretty much a ghost town at 6:30PM.

Walking is, I think, a combination of habit and culture.

Both sets of my grandparents, from opposite ends of the country, used to walk quite a lot without any real purpose for doing so. They did this well into their 80s, and so did their friends. It seemed just to be something they did, and always had done.

My parents, by contrast, almost never walk when they can drive, and will often drive to a park to let their dog off rather than walk her there and back. Many of my friends are the same. One goes so far as to drive five minutes, then deals with parking and paying for it, to get his lunch every day rather than simply walking for the same length of time -- he spends more time in traffic in his car than actually moving.

One colleague of mine at my last job was amazed that I walked from the train station to the office -- a walk of less than 10 minutes at a brisk pace; it didn't even occur to her to ask about how I'd covered the mile-and-a-half from my home to the train station at the other end. My total commute was about the same distance as hers, but it took me less time, cost me slightly less, and got me some exercise into the bargain.

Some evenings, my fiancée and I would go for a walk of a couple of miles just to get out of the house, or to enjoy warm weather, or just because.

Since leaving that job, I walk less overall. I also have a dog, now, the walking of whom replaced most of the purposeless walking I used to do in the evenings. Most of my walking, now, has 'purpose' because it's exercising the dog, or taking her out for toilet breaks.

I think location is also a big factor here. I've lived in multiple parts of the US, and most of it is simply designed against walking. I enjoy taking casual walks, but when I lived in the midwest, I had to drive to a park to walk. There were no sidewalks, and the streets were dangerous for pedestrians (lots of blind curves, speeding cars, etc). It always frustrated me that I had to take a vehicle to go for a walk.

Much of this is also perception. Lots of places are fine for walking or cycling, but people are so accustomed to driving everywhere that they drive even when it's somewhat ridiculous, like driving from one parking spot to another in the same a parking lot instead of just walking to a store elsewhere in the strip mall. Or driving to a store a block away and trying to find a parking space instead of just walking.

Some places are actively hostile to walkers: building only arterial roads and refusing to build sidewalks to exclude walkers and the wrong sort of people (black or poor). Relatively few places are so hostile to drivers. So people grow a bias toward driving everywhere. Load your bicycle on the car and drive it there to ride around in circles.

I walk insane lengths as it clears the mind and fosters creativity. I talk into my phone during that; either to colleagues or to a recorder and then type it in at home (no, speech to text does not work; if someone wants to work with me to get that working, that would be great but for now, it does not even work a bit; only gibberish comes out; it seems to have something to do with my way of talking which I am trying to fix but I type faster than I talk anyway). Because I walk so much (through the mountains here) and my brain works better while walking, I really work on programming on the go. I want to be able to program while walking and besides discussing code with a colleague while there is internet (which is not everywhere in the mountains) I cannot code while walking which annoys me. I get ideas and want to try them right away. Now I have to sit down, get out my pandora and try it. I want to try it while walking. I believe I will find a way of doing that eventually but everything I tried (from primitive AR to Scratch like programming languages) doesn't really work well. The thing is ; I can text chat fine while walking so why not coding... I know why but I try to somehow resolve it anyway.

The purposelessness here is the time between I want/need to write code or talk; that's most of the walk.

Edit: one of the findings is that you basically should not need any scrolling/dragging within small distances; like scrolling to a part of code and dragging your cursor to make changes for instance. This includes dragging/dropping the Scratch visual code; it doesn't work while walking.

You have described my situation to a tee. It doesn't work in the city. It must be in nature, and I must be alone. Except rather than the nitty gritty implementation details, I limit my mental explorations during perambulations to the higher level abstractions of architectural matters. I even wrote a toy "mobile web dicta phone" that uses the media recording api because I wanted a single click, distraction free way to make "notes to self".

For any one in this situation, I think any "code while walking" solution should be voice activated, as it may be important to have eyes and hands free over the terrain. Straight voice-to-code would be cumbersome. Something like a voice-to-UML might be better. But I think what we really need is to first define a visual logic language itself that can be easily translated into high level code. Thanks for sharing, and keep exploring. There are definitely others who would be interested ;)

Note as well that I walk in nature whenever I walk and that means often bad or no internet: current voice to whatever solutions require internet and quite solid internet as far as I have seen...

Besides gaming for about 30min per day I spend most my free time on trying out little protypes which allow me to do this. Hopefully something will come out of it.

> I want to be able to program while walking...

That's why Google glasses got me excited, as it's a step towards that direction. I don't see this being too viable until I can control the computer with my thoughts, though, so we need the microchip in the brain (or something similar) still too.

But then I could work outside, walk while working, not be tethered to a desk or table all day. Can't wait for that time, hopefully it's not much more than a decade away.

I tried a one handed chord-grabbing keyboard; with some practice it is fast enough for normal (sloppy) text; for programming I can't say I liked it much. It would be quite good to have something like for heads up displays in combi with AR.

> I want to be able to program while walking...

Won't help the "bus factor"...

If by 'bus factor' you mean not noticing a city bus running me over, well I don't plan to do the walking on a city street, but in a park or forest preserve. There's a bunch near me. The chances of being hit by a bus would be borderline non-existent, and I'd expect the view to be fairly translucent by default anyway.

If by 'bus factor' you mean the business term of concentrating too much knowledge in one person and suddenly losing them (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_factor), then that's something the company should already be taking into account anyway.

If by 'bus factor' you mean something regarding a computer system bus, like maybe it's too much info to carry and display portably maybe then you'll have to elaborate.

If by 'bus factor' you mean communication bandwidth or capability between me and these types of devices still being fairly non-existent, that's my reasoning for expecting there will be a microchip or something that allows me to direct any mouse/keyboard movements (or their equivalent) with my thoughts. Because having to gesture hololens style or dictating everything or navigating with a single button on the side of my glasses would suck, yes.

Might want to be a little more specific next time instead of throwing out a term without context.

LOL! Good grief, man, it was a joke! You just deconstructed it down to its subatomic components, leaving nothing but a pile of gray goo. You're like the LHC for jokes.

Well, my response was basically a joke too (of course he meant being hit by a bus), my brain just brought up other possibilities right away and I ran with it to show how something as simple as that phrase can be ambiguous.

Although I probably did come across as a pedant considering how straight I wrote it, so fair enough.

That's very interesting. Please keep me in the loop when you make progress into that direction. Maybe something into the direction of augmented reality?

I tried AR with a homemade 'cardboard viewer' and after that a Homido with an Android phone and my pandora as keyboard but because the phone had only 1 camera and the glasses are way too heavy to walk with it was an absolute pain... Technology will improve there but it's definitely not there yet.

Sounds like learning VI or ed might be helpful for that, since they are designed to be mouse free. It may not be the exact thing you need, but they offer a lot from the keyboard.

Yes, vi(m) seems one of the few editors that would work for mobile (touch) devices. It was already my favorite and only editor before my quest...

Almost exactly my experience, and with programming as well. I solved a bunch of problems while hiking in the mountains. Except that I don't miss coding because they are more architectural problems than pure coding.

That's what I usually have; I think up high level solutions or, in rare cases, low level solutions for hard problems and I blurt out them into a recording. That works fine. The problem is; I really want to keep walking and not go home and spend hours behind a computer entering and debugging these issues.

Wasn't this already posted on hackernews? I've already read it, and I was a little curious because that's a little what I started to do last year (my apartment and school started to feel like a prison cell).

I just walk in my city to explore, preferably greener, quiet areas without car traffic, but I always plan a zone I'll go to. I use offline openstreetmap (OSMAND) on my smartphone. I try to go to different places when I can, but it's difficult as green places are too remote. Public transport can boost me, but I usually take off from home and try to make a looped route.

To me it helps "loosening" my focus, so I can think a little more creatively. I just talk with myself. I don't have a time where I know I have to go home, I don't plan. Walking is a physical exercise (at least for me, I sleep better), which make the blood flow, so you're not as much anxious when you sit for too long.

I don't want to sound like a crazy hobo, but cubicles, houses, apartments and dense urban areas can feel like prisons. It's not just about the physical exercise, it's about being in the large outdoors and not controlling your behavior because there are civilized people around you. If all you do is work and gym, it won't feel very good.

Maybe all of this is in my head, and my unconscious just pretends it's good. But I know that I can't be creative at home.

Also try to watch that speech about creativity by the monty python head guy. He gave really good insights about how to put oneself in a position where you can be creative. You need large spaces, relative silence, freedom from behaving like you want, etc.

Once of the reasons I want massively more dense residential areas in cities is because I want city living but shorter distances to large parkland.

I live in a relatively green area, but still my street alone (~660 houses)"wastes" around 40,000 m^2 of space compared to new high rises on the way near our local station. I'd love to see far more of the residential areas compressed like that, if only it meant a reasonable portion of additional land was turned into parks (and here's the problem - in practice this is of course additional housing, not replacing equivalent amount of less dense units). We do have a "country park" just 20 minutes walk away, so we're not in a bad spot, but it could be so much better.

If I was given Sim City like powers over London, I'd raze large parts of it outside of the centre, and replace it with super-dense hubs around the main rail hubs outside of the centre, connect them with a high speed orbital railway plus spokes out to the smaller cities further out, and free up ~half the current area of London for park lands. You could fit 30m+ people in London and still make it feel spacious and green compared to the scattered, busy suburban nightmares that covers large part of the outer reaches of London today.

Many metros could benefit from your vision.

You're describing the late 19th century ideal of Garden Cities. Clusters of towns, divided by green belts, and connected by railways and highways.

I'll speak for the US right now, there is so much country side, but it is completely inaccessible for pretty much anybody living in a city. What country-side there is near a metro, it's curated: park here, walk there, take a panoramic picture here, ... I worked in Belgium for a while, which is incredibly densely populated, and the country-side was so much more accessible. Walk out the door of your city house, and you'd be in a rural environment in 10 minutes, and you could go long distances never leaving those small roads. The USA has so much wilderness and country side, yet, it feels so much more remote, just because the cities are a sprawling mess and roads in the country-side only accommodate cars.

I don't understand the desire to stack people on top of each other and "compress" and optimize residential areas. Apartment living stinks. Noisy neighbors, crowded living spaces, no yard to play in or have a pet in, more risk of fire caused by neighbors and loss of life and property, noisier environment outside, the list goes on and on.

I guess if you're wealthy enough to live in a nice condo with thick concrete walls and floors and ceilings, and a condo association with lots of strict rules about what you can and can't do to annoy your neighbors, maybe it would be more pleasant--unless you want to practice a musical instrument or have a workshop or a garden or...

Human beings aren't made to be stacked on top of each other. You can do it, but it results in much more stressful living. People are happier and healthier when the population density is lower and they have room to breathe and have more space of their own.

I don't know what evidence you have about people not living above one another. We've been doing it for thousands of years at this point.

I personally think the best places I've ever lived were areas where the housing stock is primarily three flats. You still have a lot of space, and you can find space to be alone when you want to be. The density enables a lot of amenities within walking distance, as well as making casually meeting neighbors easy. More densely populated neighborhoods have the lack of space you describe.

I moved to an area with a similar lot size, but all the houses are single family. It's borderline unwalkable, and it's still much more densely populated than the average suburb. The suburbs I think are the worst density imaginable. You are still close enough to other people to annoy one another, but not close enough to interact in a humanizing way. Most of your interactions will be only when someone intrudes into your bubble in some way.

I think there are a lot of benefits once you get up to a more rural density. You can have a shop, you have fresh air, and nature, etc.

The midpoint where you aren't stacked is the worst in my mind though.

There's no need for a condo association - have good sound isolation be part of the building codes.

The typical plan where I live is to have 3 or 4- story apartments in a square ring around a central yard. 100 years ago, that's where the pump, and the outhouse, and the pigs were located. Nowadays these are often play areas for the kids, small gardens, a BBQ area, and other ways to enjoy the outside while being isolated from the street noise and wind.

The building construction is quite solid. If we're making no noise, I can softly hear the piano upstairs playing. It's much nicer than the noise of the neighbors' lawnmowers when I lived in a house in the suburbs. My city has only about 60,000 people, so the noise even downtown isn't high. In the nearby big city of 500K people, buses, and trams, it's amazing how sound isolating triple-paned windows can be.

I think you're looking at solutions that are possible should one own a house, and missing that other solutions are possible with apartments.

In addition to the courtyard gardens, are also neighborhood plots, for those who are more serious into gardening. Many people who have a plot also have a little garden shed, with some furniture and such to make it sort of an escape from the house.

For a workshop, I joined the local maker's group, which is 4 blocks from where I live. They have a drill press, power saw, and other equipment for the rare times I need it.

There are also some lovely walking paths, the nearest dog park is 4 blocks the other way, and about 20 minute's walk away takes me to a part of the river set aside as a dog bathing area.

Of course if you want to keep a sled dog team, or do furniture building as a hobby, then your apartment options are limited. But for most people, being "stacked on top of each other" isn't a problem, and doesn't result in "much more stressful living."

HN mostly doesn't treat reposts as dupes once well over a year has passed, which is the case with this one.

I tend to bite my nails, especially when I'm programming or deep in thought. Last year I decided to start walking whenever I reach that point where I am fidgeting and can't sit still. It's totally changed the way I work for the better. I walk between 10-20 miles per day, and can get a lot of work done on those walks. Highly recommended, especially for people living in places with good weather and beautiful scenery.

Even if not for distance and just a few hours, getting out of the city setting and flooding your perception with nature, trees, natural sounds, quiet, fresh air, etc, can feel like a week of vacation. I think people travel around half the world to get away from their daily routine and see other stuff, but often a walk in the woods can already lift you up quite a bit.

I keep nail clippers in my desk exactly for this reason.

I hate the feeling of rough bitten nails which became an unproductive distraction in itself.

Now, I clip instead. My nail grooming has become on point.

Clipping in a cube farm is a capital offense.

If it's your home office or you have a door its okay :)

I have the same problem. If I'm learning something or programming or anything mentally straining I start biting nails.

I have no feeling some problem is out of my reach but still the nail biting happens.

Ever since I've started standing instead of sitting, walking around has decreased my nail biting.

I can see walking 10-20 miles a day being detrimental to your health long term. Knees, feet, hips, somethings gonna give.

Good cushioned footwear and insoles is a must to limit the damage at that range.

While cumulative effects no doubt contribute to tissue changes, those changes aren't necessarily going to be for the worse. Leg bones and cartilage adapt positively to the light impact and weight-bearing of walking (for most people, most of the time, in most circumstances). In fact a lack of upright weight bearing in 20s and 30s may contribute to the development of osteoporosis and cartilage thinning.

Your mileage may vary (apologies for the pun) but if you can, walk.

I've been walking about 10kms per day for decades now without wearing any shoes at all. No detrimental effects so far. But then I'm a featherweight, which might help.

Anyway: walking is absolutely essential to me. I do most of my work outside, walking and thinking.

It will be beneficial to many others parts of your health. I'm thinking it would be a net positive, vs not walking / exercising very much. I agree on cushioned shoes if walking on something like concrete.

There are ways in which walking for long distances can affect you negatively. Consider bursitis for instance. I was walking 5 miles a day, on average according to my iPhone, last year. I suddenly noticed this dull aching pain in my hip/buttock sometime in December. Over the course of several weeks, it got increasingly worse until the point where I was bedridden for 4 days. I've started my routine up again, but I walk about 3 miles a day now, and not every day, until I can be confident that the pain will not return.

Running maybe (and I say that as a runner myself) but even then the jury's pretty much out.

I'd imagine that spending the few hours it takes to walk 10-20 miles sitting instead would be far worse to long term health.

My version of "taking a walk" is swimming laps.

My finest work is accomplished in the pool, going back and forth. Been a swimmer all my life, and if I don't get at least a swim or two in each week, things start to turn to shit. It's my meditation, and despite being the most boring thing on earth for some people, it's one of my favorite things to do.

Many introverted mathematical minds would love it, but you gotta learn proper technique to be able to really get into a good careless rhythm. I highly recommend it.

It's a thinking man's sport.

I agree. I'd love to swim in the ocean, if I lived near it. (Of course, devising a way to safely swim alone)

I'm an accomplished ocean swimmer too, but now live in Texas. I will say that ocean swimming is a completely different ballgame, and you need to be far more on your toes.

For me, it's not a "thinking man's" sport out there. It's a "get out of this fast and alive" and keep an eye on my line of sight sport.

But if you're a swimmer, I do encourage open water swimming if you want a good rush. Exhilarating. Wear a bright colored cap and if you get the "willies", just get the F outta there. Live to swim another day.

Are you talking about sharks?

I was thinking about tying myself to a rescue buoy. A bright colored cap is a great idea.

(Actually, swimming in ponds is probably much easier)

I personally find it much easier to think deeply whilst doing some tedious repetitive task like ironing or cleaning the house as opposed to while walking. Living in a big city I find walking can be quite stressful and distracting - even in a park.

I just can't function without a daily walk (~5-6km or 3-4 miles). If I don't take my walk, I can't wind down after a day of work and can't sleep properly. No purpose, no soundtrack, no smartphone - except when I want to write down some ideas that came to me during the walk.

I like walking, biking is not for me, so I walk

And yes, you have a different perspective of the city when you do it. Because it's easier to realize how places connect

Yes, it won't take you as far as a bike, but it's doable

You can walk to work if possible, get on an earlier stop if going by public transport, or, I dunno, just walk around the block if you have to park at your work.

I do both, biking I can cover more distance, but if I'm riding fast, I'm usually not thinking much. Same goes for running.

Walking or riding slowly is what gives me time to ponder.

Back during my PhD quals, I used to just walk in a circle around my smallish apartment complex to blow off stress. Once I even met my roommate doing them same thing on one of my laps!

More often I'd walk around some trees around the university campus. When out for a stroll, I can take a different perspective on things and let my mind wander without being tempted to open a new tab and browse HackerNews or something. I think I've planned a lot of research just by walking around. Sitting in front of my computer, my mind is stuck in the mode of "Do something. Do something."

There's regularly articles in Norwegian newspapers about how weird the Norwegian culture of purposeless walking is to foreigners and tourists, so it's probably not dead in Norway at least.

> Norwegian culture of purposeless walking

Is this Hiking?

Well, we don't really separate walking and hiking in the Norwegian language (I actually had to google the difference).

According to Statistics Norway[1], 85% of the Norwegian population has taken a walk of 3 hours or less in the last 12 months (of 2014) and around half a walk of more than 3 hours.

I didn't find updated stats about frequency, but in 1998 46% of Norwegians went on walks for longer than 30 minutes at least 2 times a week [2]. I don't have a reason to believe it has changed significantly.

[1] https://www.ssb.no/kultur-og-fritid/statistikker/fritid/hver...


I love walking, but this article really bothers me, so I'm going to get a little sarcastic. Am I the only one who finds this entire article incredibly ironic? The author is trying to defend "purposeless" walking, but which is actually very purposeful! The loss of 'purposeless' walking is seen by the author as a loss of Creative Thinking. We're so busy with other smaller tasks, we're not setting aside enough time (like we used too, in the good ol' days) to think up all our really valuable thoughts! It would be one thing if they highlighted the relaxation, health benefits, de-stressing, etc., of walking, but that is clearly not the point: rattling off a list of Great Minds, and their Great Achievements whom we would benefit from emulating. The point of the article clearly is not to get people to take more breaks or curb their their obsession with work. Really it's a sneaky backdoor lifehack sermon: you're not good enough or creative enough, and you should pencil in some mindful unstructured time into their schedule to boost your Really Important thinking output by 10-15%.

Two years ago, I moved from Northern VA to the Florida coast. My house is about 4 blocks from the beach. The wife and I have taken to going on longish walks along the beach after dinner (or even just around the neighborhood on occasion). I'm usually lost in thought, so not much conversation happens, but I enjoy the walks.

In NOVA, we lived in a fairly dense townhouse development with significant vehicle traffic and going for walks was just not very pleasant (and the weather certainly wasn't as nice - especially in the winter). We've both lost a decent amount of weight since we moved here :)

I absolutely loathe big cities, which I know is a severe handicap for a software developer, especially since I've found remote work isn't actually a real thing. I do have a rather mundane job here (fairly low stress, 40 hrs/week CRUD stuff), but I'm not moving (besides, I have my side projects to keep me challenged) :)

How long is your commute (if you have any) ?

15-20 minutes :)

Walking helps me in solving programming issues.

When I find myself stuck and my mind starts to loop around, I need to force myself to take a purposeless walk, around my office's block or little more. During the walk I stop thinking about the problem for a while and then resume from a new angle. It normally works very well.

Every day, I walk from the ferry building in SF to 4th Street and back for work. I look at it as the time I can enjoy the city and never (or try to never) think of issues I am having. It relieves a lot of stress, as I look at the faces of pasaers by, and the buildings.

Prior to college, during college, and even now, my wife/wife-to-be and I took an hour walk in the evening (and sometimes morning). It's something I always use(d) to relieve stress.

The thing is, most people thought we were kind of weird. Back where we are from we literally used to walk next or through corn fields and the town was definitely not design for walking. We made it work, but I can see why walking is dying a slow death.

A few good reads on walking, purposeless or otherwise:

"A Philosophy of Walking" by Frédéric Gros

"Wanderlust" by Rebecca Soinit

"The Old Ways" by Robert Macfarlane (or really anything by him)

"Walking Home" by Simon Armitage

I have a 35 minute walking commute in Boston, through the public gardens, which can be very beautiful. While it's not aimless, it does seem to have offer of the benefits that I get from aimless walking, which I also do fairly often. A walking commute I see as my biggest job perk.

I'm always saddened to see so many people talking on their cell phones on my commute, especially in the public garden. It seems they either have no appreciation for walking or, worse, they're afraid to be alone with themselves.

My super power.

During the week I walk a loop in the morning (9.5miles) and when I have to commute to NY, it's a few miles downtown,a brief lunchtime wander around, and a swift walk back up in the evening to Penn.

Part of my walking is for health reasons, part is due to a need to move about, part is meditation. My mind wanders while out for a good walk, it's the most liberating feeling I experience.

My wife and I go for longer walks on the weekend, sometimes we chat, but often time we walk together in silence. It's a guilty pleasure.

Guilty? That sounds lovely

I pace. I do laps around the lab, between buildings and to the nearby beach when my mind gets jammed.

Used to think watching the waves would settle my mind. Being at the beach just makes me want to go surf.

Ive have had quite a few software design problems solve themselves during my 15min commute to work in the morning as well. I never listen to talk radio (NPR) as a result.

I'd hazard a neurological mechanism for this: walking feeds information to path integration mechanism which helps us form a spatial map of what's around us. This same map is also considered a cognitive map which we can explore to find different solutions to the same intellectual problems, which we represent spatially.

Judging from the reactions here, doing something for no apparent reason has become quite a taboo. But why?

In German, there is a special verb for this, "flanieren". When I look it up, I get "to dander", which seems to be the root for "dandy".

also, purposeless bicycling.

need to be away from traffic, so you don't have to concentrate. a bike path - even better, a national/state park.

but to clarify, it helps to have a destination, even though it's not the "purpose".

Yeah, easy-pace bike rides are definitely great for thinking.

I walk a lot, but often with Podcasts and I find that to be very relaxing. Of course, I walk a lot without podcasts as well and I honestly don't feel anything different.

I have to say though, I don't listen to entertainment podcasts but rather thoughtful ones like msdevshow, startalk radio, fullstack radio and the changelog among others.

I also have a dog, so walking at least 3 times a day is a must and I guess that changes things. But I used to walk everyday for at least 1 hour before my dog was born, now I just have company.

Sometimes I find a place to be very beautiful then I usually absorb the moment.

See also the concept of "Dérive"[1] or purposeless walking as defined by Guy Debord[2] and used by the Letterist and Situationist movements.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dérive [2]: http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/theory.html

One more to add to the list: J.S. Bach who walked some 200 miles to hear an organist play once. One of many legendary anecdotes about the man.

I love purposeless walks, but I think one of the quotes had a point about the self conscious nature of it. Even if you're inconspicuous about it people treat it like you're doing something weird. I blame suburbanization a bit. There are some neighborhoods where people just seem to assume you're there to rob the joint if you don't have a dog on a leash.

We now call it meditation.

You can certainly meditate while walking and it can work very well, but most of what people describe doing while walking in this thread is not meditation (some might be). E.g. "letting your mind wander" which is one of the things people frequently like to do while walking is pretty much the opposite of most meditation practice (that's not a criticism of doing that; letting your mind wander is wonderfully relaxing too, but in a very different way to meditation).

I do both.

They are very, very different.

The article reminds me of a cute saying about getting "exercise" in a corporate environment, "People think a person walking with purpose has a purpose for walking."

So is there any evidence for any of these supposed advantages of aimless walking? Or is this just a "people should do things the way I did them"?

The cool thing about it is that it's an easy thing to try for yourself [assuming you're not physically unable] and gather your own evidence.

I can't believe these words are about to come off of my fingers, but -- if it works for you, then does it matter what a body of scientific research has to say about it? Because the benefits are at least in part subjective, this is a case where a sample size of one is sufficient.

I asked precisely because it doesn't work for me. As far as I can tell the article is nonsense. But I wouldn't necessarily know whether I was being more or less creative, so actual evidence would trump my personal experience there.

What are the conditions of your experiment? What are you wanting to measure?

Just a measure of creativity?

How about incorporating other factors as mentioned in these comments, some do seem more measurable than others.

Ironically, I think that walking to increase creativity, calmness, clarity of mind, reduce stress, increase fitness, etc is actually purposeful walking. Walking to not get any advantages is more of an interesting phenomena. Why do people do that?

Wanderers were our ancestors and wanderers we are, gentrification and hipsterification in large cities are a notable exception.

Can any of the walking enthusiasts posting here say whether using a treadmill desk conveys the same advantages?

I'm surprised they did not mention Einstein. From what I've read he loved to take walks.

One of the things I always look for in a new house/apartment is a good PaceTrack.

I love walking. I would say roughly 50% of my hours programming are spent on foot.

I go on longs walks a lot, and a few months ago I bought a poker stick to pick up the plastic bottles I see littered everywhere. My walks are no longer purposeless, but I feel better when I come back with a garbage bag of plastic that will be recycled rather then end up in our soil and water supply.

Here's the poker stick I bought: https://www.amazon.ca/gp/aw/d/B0042SNCGA/ref=yo_ii_img?ie=UT...

That product page is the mobile version. Here is a better shot: https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B0042SNCGA/ref=oh_aui_detai...

It is good to see purposeless news articles are still going strong

these bloggers can make everything look like spirituality these days to promote the latest book of Hipster. I walked yesterday. aimlessly. not because of my desire to be mindful or some kind of creativity boost or because i had aloe vera growing on top of my head. i did it because it was a national holiday and i was bored. of course, i came back enlightened like the buddha. i saw an elephant on somebody's home decoration. and i had this funny idea for an association to promote the raping of elephants (sorry if you find this offensive). so yeah i guess it does make you more creative for some definition of 'creative'. but please dear bloggers, dont go promote walking as some kind of mindfulness. please. or i might just translate my hard-gained 'creativity' into action. Elephants across the world will thank you.

The problem with walking is that it does little to the body. Your heart rate stays normal, and thus it is not a cardiovascular exercise.

Why does it need to do something to your body? Wouldn't it be good enough if it does something beneficial to your mind?

Apart from that, go for a stiff 2 hour walk and then come back and tell me that it didn't do anything to your body. It's certainly not extreme sports, but it's still exercise, at least for your legs and your whole motion apparatus.

It probably does nothing for people who are otherwise working out, jogging etc. There it doesn't create a new stressor for their system to get better. But for people who otherwise mostly sit and drive in cars, even that little bit of walking will create steep improvements to their body.

> Why does it need to do something to your body? Wouldn't it be good enough if it does something beneficial to your mind?

Well, why not ride a bicycle, and let both your mind AND your body benefit?

> Apart from that, go for a stiff 2 hour walk and then come back and tell me that it didn't do anything to your body.

I've tried this. I walked 1.5 hours a day, 5 times a week for about a year. Didn't lose a gram of body weight, while having a normal diet with limited refined sugars (I don't like sweet tastes). Switched to cycling (30 minutes a day), and feel much more in control now.

> Well, why not ride a bicycle, and let both your mind AND your body benefit?

I can walk in the city and be relaxed; cycling in the city stresses me (I live in London). There are large parks nearby where I can walk without traffic and where I at least in the mornings could easily go 20-30 minutes without seeing either a person or a car, but where cycling isn't an option. If I could cycle along somewhere with no traffic I might very well feel differently, but walking and cycling are very different activities, and I suspect a lot of the differences in opinion have to do with whether or not cycling is viable as a relaxing activity near where people live.

> I've tried this. I walked 1.5 hours a day, 5 times a week for about a year. Didn't lose a gram of body weight, while having a normal diet with limited refined sugars (I don't like sweet tastes). Switched to cycling (30 minutes a day), and feel much more in control now.

If you walked 1.5 hours a day without losing a gram of body weight, you compensated by eating more or moving less the rest of the day. If cycling works better for you with the purpose of losing weight, then great. But that certainly does not mean walking did nothing to your body.

In any case, if your purpose was exercise, it's trivial to make walking hard: Walk with a weight vest (5kg-10kg will do wonders), or walk faster, or both.

> Well, why not ride a bicycle, and let both your mind AND your body benefit?

If your mind is not on the road when you're cycling in a city then you're doing it wrong, unfortunatley.

Doors of parked cars opening, buses pulling out without indicating, drivers egressing from side-roads without checking, truck drivers underestimating their position when passing... Taking your mind off reading the road ahead even for a minute is an invitation to an accident.

Whereas on an early morning run or walk on the pavement / sidewalk / trail one's mind can wander and explore.

> Well, why not ride a bicycle, and let both your mind AND your body benefit?

If one gives a purpose (in the form of training/wellness) to a walk whose foundation is being purposeless, he's defeating the point.

The different is, more abstractly, about the cultures of producing 24/7, versus allowing oneself "not to produce".

>> Why does it need to do something to your body? Wouldn't it be good enough if it does something beneficial to your mind?

> Well, why not ride a bicycle, and let both your mind AND your body benefit?

Does that make walking a problem, compared to cycling?

It does plenty. See my other comment here. Additionally, it maintains proprioception, it fosters a sense of well-being (for some), it helps lower blood glucose, it slightly elevates fat metabolism, it contributes hugely to veinous return from the legs, it may help gut motility... and probably much more besides.

I just got up and took about 100 steps. According to my Fitbit Blaze, my heart rate went from 76bpm to 99bpm. That may not be great cardio exercise, but it makes a difference. I feel more alert already.

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