Desire paths everywhere

There is a popular idea of humans being able to adapt to anything. As Nietzsche and Frankl have argued, we can handle any what as long as there is a why. This seems approximately true although it makes me wonder whether certain things are easier for humans to adapt to than others. There is the idea of desire paths (or cow paths) as a response to high modernist top-down planning — when sidewalks fail to capture the desired walking patterns of people to a sufficient degree that new ad-hoc paths start forming through shortcuts taken over the carefully manicured lawns framed by those sidewalks. Perhaps we can look for desire paths — or the resulting venting of frustration that occurs when desire path formation is restricted — across all areas of life and use them as a gauge of how human-compatible (humane?) a given system feels. Humans having a tendency to get stressed and upset about sitting in traffic strikes me as an example of the latter — there is no shortcut they can take, and it becomes sufficiently constraining that their mind seems to start attacking itself, in a sense. On the other hand, the widespread adoption of contraceptive devices seems like an example of desire paths being created successfully with the use of new technology. Given the option to have control over when one has kids, many people seem to strain against the tradition of ASAP and always and leverage technology to “move across the landscape” in ways that were not possible before. There is also an interesting counterargument to the idea that the tendency for people being drawn to constantly stare at smartphones is in some sense inhuman. Now that we have been given an affordance to let our attention easily escape states of boredom, we may merely be drawn to take advantage of it. Of course, not all time sink activities leave us feeling as refreshed as others. Taking a few moments to pay attention to one’s breath has a much better feeling aftereffect than scrolling through Twitter mindlessly.

Also published on Medium.

Leave a Reply