As we prepare to depart for the winter, I am becoming increasingly weary of the bleak effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Even if it is a couple months too late to mark the occasion of Dr. Seuss’s death, one of his final books, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!,” offers some special solace and escapism in the meantime. I, unfortunately, do not have the physical book in my possession, but its vivid illustrations are easily discoverable on the Internet. The bizarreness of its imagery only aids the imagination—a great current sweeps you into the air, dangling from the rubbery knot of a balloon, as you are delivered to exotic and unfathomable landscapes. We are flung over triped hills, detachable mountains, kaleidoscopic earth formations and golden castles whose foundations arc like a rainbow from hill to hill.
In a world of diminishing wonder, the imaginations of its foremost auteurs are all the more precious. The brutal moorings of the pandemic can cast no anchor over the wonderlands of Dr. Seuss, and particularly the limitless possibilities in “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” A sense of wonder, inalienable from our sublime nature, is wedded to our ambitions for new technologies. In a world that increasingly disregards the merits of wonder and passion, in which the auteurs are few and far between, there are still a few bright elements that are laboring to service our wonder with technology—and in particular, the technology to deliver us to fantastical places.
The age of the zeppelin, the largest and perhaps the most elegant of the airborne machines, may have concluded long ago, but already I can envision equally thrilling possibilities of future transportation. There are, of course, the modes of transportation whose marvel is derived from their speed—the Concorde, for instance, which retired in 2003. However, the long absence of the supersonic jets suggests that perhaps there is a less widespread interest than suspected in traveling at as rapid a speed as possible; maybe, the thrill of reaching a new location is augmented by the time it takes to get there.
The return of supersonic aircraft, however, is very likely and will be wondrous in its own right. Other technologies offer possibilities of their own—imagine, for instance, a monorail that spans New York City, or a highway suspended in the air. No doubt this would relieve the many ancient layers of infrastructure in the Big Apple, packed densely together and groaning with perpetual gridlock.
Or perhaps new innovations in rail can produce a high-speed railway line that spans the country, supporting trains that glide with grace like swans upon a lake. Elon Musk, of course, has a thousand more ideas for innovative travel, such as mountain passages carved out by tunneling machines, or rapidly rotating objects that shoot forward at high speeds.
I like to imagine a return to the airships of yesterday—great ships filled with helium, released into the skies to leisurely drift to their destinations. I also think of aerial sailboats, borne into the air, or other great vessels that float like raindrops into the heavens. I imagine that we have always instinctually wanted to leave the earth and enter the avian realm, watching events from the spacious freedom of the skies. The first objective of innovative travel doesn’t need to always be speed.
In many ways, we don’t want to make the world a smaller place, to drain it of its wonder and deprive it of its sense of dimension and sprawl. We wish to be immersed, to refit travel to the pace of human experience. Anything too fast defies our ability to observe and process stimuli. There are reasons for technology to take us to a place as swiftly as possible, but for matters of leisure and sightseeing, there are more meditative yearnings of human nature to be answered. The world is too rapid, too fast-paced, too unwilling to deprive us of its electric distractions for even a moment. For the technologies that are inspired from wonder, their object should be not to take us to a place as fast as possible, but to service the more imaginative inclinations of our human experience. There is a mystique when one contemplates the places to which they will go, the thrill of anticipation which altogether reaffirms the old cliche that the value is in the journey, not the destination. Perhaps there is a reason that, in “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!,” Dr. Seuss sweeps us along in a balloon and not a jet. It is good for us, particularly in restrictive times, to imagine the places we can go—if only we can preserve a sense of wonder in the first place.