CHICAGO - I live in “the city.” To be precise, I live in the suburbs of a city. But Sacramento really doesn’t rank as far as what many would call a city… and it is most certainly not a big city. This is not meant to be in any way derogatory towards Sacramento; it’s just that after spending five days in the concrete jungle of Chicago, humble Sacramento looks like the cow town it once was. Chicago is all grown up; Sacramento is but a mere adolescent – if that. Although each is charming (for lack of a better word) in its own way, and both are world renown for different reasons, this is more than simply a matter of scale.
Or is it?
That is, do population densities and vertical versus horizontal habitudes really matter? Sure there are distinct cultural differences between living in a big city, a small city (like Sacramento), the suburbs or the country. Modes and means of transportation differ greatly as do social activities, business and education. But when comparing the elements of any two big cities, these and other differences can also be easily identified. Though it is true that we make distinctions categorically between different living environments, that the genus “city” is different from the genus “country,” the same animal inhabits both.
And people are people, everywhere.
For the past several days, Chicago was the host city for 95th annual conference of the National Communication Association. Attending were 8,000 or so communication scholars – those whose passion is the study of how we communicate. Since all human interaction is by definition communication, the study of communication captures pretty much all other human knowledge. This is not meant to open the age-old debate of what it is, exactly, that makes communication studies a distinct area of scholarship, but rather a segue into the sort of writing this blog tends to be focused on – another leg on the introspective journey of life.
People are people, everywhere.
We, as a species, share a genetic makeup that renders each one of us virtually identical. There is far less about each of us that is different compared to what is the same, exactly the same, much to the chagrin of the many and sundry ethnocentrists amongst us. As much as I would like to think I am somehow unique, the truth is a much different story. But my circumstances and history are unique, just like everyone else. Each of our journeys is entirely our own, no matter how much we share with others. But similarities among experiences can be uncanny, almost eerie. As we share our stories we come to realize that we are never really alone.
People are people, everywhere.
I lead a dual life. I have one foot in one world and the other in a decidedly different one. This is hardly unique; many if not most can recount similar experiences. Even in my own past, this dualism has been more or less apparent at different stages of my life. Currently, however, it is far more pronounced and it is causing a certain amount of discomfort. My “professional” life, which is also my academic life, and my personal life have almost no crossover. There are a couple of tenuous links between the two worlds and social elements to each, but for the most part they are separated by something more abstract than even time and space. Until recently it did not present much of a problem, but as the universe expands, so too these worlds drift farther apart.
With one foot in each, balance is difficult to maintain. Each world has a claim on me... and my time; to each I give willingly and as completely as is humanly possible. It is not as though I feel there is not enough time (usually) or that I somehow have to choose one or the other, it is more of an identity crisis. And the culprit is academia. She is the newcomer, the upstart… she has drawn me into a new and exciting direction. It has been a struggle to assimilate, to find my place in what is, in all seriousness, a new world.
But people are people everywhere.
In Chicago, the best and the brightest from my field converged to share what they have discovered. I felt very small. What do I know? What do I have to contribute? Am I just along for the ride? Not much; not much – yet; and ultimately, no. But there is a long road ahead and I am still scrambling to catch up. Chicago has shown me it is not just around the corner or over the next hill – it is a lifetime journey and a lifetime away. The moral? This time, I’m afraid there isn’t one. I live in two worlds that might never get any closer than they are right now. But both are inhabited with the same animal that inhabits Sacramento and Chicago and everywhere in between.