Distributed souls


For something completely different (or is it?), I’ve had an extraordinary confluence of conversations lately about where to live and where we belong. I am Australian, the city which I love the most and where I feel most at home is certainly Sydney, yet I’ve lived overseas for over half my life in a wide variety of countries, speak five languages, feel at home many cities and cultures, and travel a large proportion of the time. Many of the people I know and interact with live similarly distributed lives, with affiliations in many places. Like me, wherever they are in the world, the majority of their friends are in a distant country.

One of the key questions as you grow older is where to live. If there is a conflict between what career and personal relationships suggest, how do you play it? It’s a nice idea to split your time between countries, but the reality is it means you are not settled anywhere. Somehow it seems that almost the majority of conversations I’ve had for the last months (not coincidentally which I’ve spent largely on the road) have been about where we choose to live. I’ve decided that in many cases there is no possible resolution – we remain torn as people.

In his latest book Pattern Recognition, William Gibson describes jetlag as moving so fast that our souls are left behind, and we must wait until they can catch up with us. Perhaps those that have created deep connections in many parts of the planet have distributed souls. Wherever they are, part of their soul is somewhere else. We are moving swiftly forward into an intensely mobile, networked world. As humans adapt to living in the living networks, I believe that powerful existential issues will emerge further into our shared consciousness. The landscape will evolve as increasing bandwidth allows richer communication, but there will never be a substitute for being in the same place as people we care for, and we must make choices about where we live. More and more people will find themselves grappling with living with a distributed soul.