Observers of the In-Between

There are places in-between the spaces we live. We rarely “see” them, but they are there.

I’ve realized many of my favourite writers, video makers, and photographers are constantly exploring this space in-between. They travel and then observe the space between where they start and finish. Their destination doesn’t matter, it is someplace you’ve never heard of. It is about the journey through the in-between. You might enjoy their work too—they include Chris Arnade, Bald and Bankrupt, Craig Mod, GeoWizard (Tom Davies), Beau Miles, Shiey and more.

Where they go and what they see isn’t “normal.” It is not big cities or popular attractions. For Bald and Bankrupt, it is an obscure historical Soviet site. For GeoWizard, it is the endpoint on a straight line across a whole country. For Craig Mod, it is a small cafe along a Japanese walking route. They do a lot of walking. As the slowest form of transportation, this allows them to do something special: observe.

Few people observe anything at all in day-to-day life. We rush by the world in cars, planes, and trains. We functionally fall asleep at the beginning of our journeys and wake up at our destinations. We count down the time and distance to our destination rather than paying attention to anything else. Nothing from the journey sticks with us.

If we took time to observe, we’d realize there are other worlds in-between our world. There are multiple dimensions on the same earth. Worlds we skip all the time. You can’t find them on Google Search or Instagram. They must be explored on the ground through walking and interacting with them. It requires practice to see in-between the spaces.

This is what these creators are so good at doing. They are observers of these in-between worlds. They interact with the people there. They take photos and videos of the spaces. They translate it for people who haven’t been there, and these translations explain a lot more about the whole than we realize. It reminds me of the fish story in David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water“:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

The observers are the older fish. They help discover and make sense of the world foreign to many. Since most people never go in-between, it is difficult for them to understand what is there. They are in water but don’t realize it.

The observers of the in-between help their audience focus on the present. What matters to them is experiencing the journey and translating it for others. What matters to the people they meet is more present than whatever global “crisis” the world is worrying about today. It is survival, family, community, and other core needs. They cut into a part of life that seems more real.

By watching a Bald and Bankrupt video, you may learn how much money a taxi driver makes in rural Russia (not a lot) or why so many buildings are abandoned (everybody left). By reading Craig Mod, you may learn about a “Kissa” (cafe) that has been open for 4 generations and remains the key social space for a small Japanese town. By watching Beau Miles, you get an appreciation for adventure, even in your backyard. By reading Chris Arnade, you understand a part of America no one cares about and how important McDonald’s is as a social institution.

The only other way to get this information is to go in-between yourself. Interesting things happen when people let them happen. Sometimes, to go in-between, you have to force yourself to do something weird, like go to a part of town you’ve never been to and talk with a stranger. You can learn a lot about something by pausing and looking at what is there.

Few outsiders ever intentionally go to these places; luckily observers do. They are good at translating it, and because of the internet, can share this with an audience. This provides readers and viewers insights into lives they never would have found. I, like many, am grateful for this. It enables a better understanding of the human experience and compassion for the lives of many more people.


Thanks to Dani Trusca and David Burt from Foster for the feedback.

Let me know what you think on Twitter.

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