Home » Want to Run Away to the Country? You’re Not Alone

Want to Run Away to the Country? You’re Not Alone

Cows in a green field on the countryside

As the world seems to become increasingly supercharged and confusing, spurred on by technology that is moving faster than any one person can keep up, a growing number of people are abandoning the city for the country. Or at the very least, they’re writing about how they wish they could. Newspapers are filled with columnists calling for a return to the sanctuary of nature. Even young digital natives are hearing the call of the country again.

When society gets messy, people start walking away. They start throwing their hands up in the air and saying “enough.” People are worried about global conflict. Many feel overloaded with targeted information. They don’t trust new technology that lets governments track people’s movements and assign them social values. Even Bill Gates has warned people about some of the directions society and technology is moving.

This isn’t the first time that people have wanted to retreat from society. It’s not the first instance of “retreatism”, as academics call it. Society is moving in multiple directions at once, and these “retreatists” are part of the very change they are running from, even if they’re not running in the direction that most futurists and visionaries want.

The People Who Want to Abandon the City for the Country 

It’s not just the usual counter-culture types moving away from the city today. Many of the people now talking about getting out of the city are successful millennial couples. Some of them are writers and columnists who are fed up with city life.

Political writer Andrew Sullivan writes at length about his retreat from the city after becoming overwhelmed by information overload. He felt he had become so overloaded with information that he had forgotten how to think for himself. And as the extent of manipulation using data is exposed through events like the Cambridge Analytica data breach, a whole genre of articles now exists calling for a break with social media and the internet in general. One article in this genre from The Globe and Mail is titled simply, “It’s time to unplug and escape this nightmare we live in.”

Many people are turning away from the city. It’s not because of the city itself but because of the always-on, connected, and overloaded culture. They feel trapped in a constant avalanche of algorithmically targeted information. Everything is too fast, too disrupted, they say. The economy seems to be on the verge of an automation revolution. Yet no one knows whose job is going to go and when.

This seems to go against what many futurists want, such as Kim Stanley Robinson, who demands that even more people should live in cities, in even more packed and dense configurations. He is likely going to be disappointed when he discovers that some people simply don’t want to live in cities.

A Vision of the Simple Life 

There are many benefits to living in the country if it’s possible to live there and still maintain an income. Some of the people retreating from the city make a living off the land. But many work remotely, either in traditionally one-person jobs like writing and crafts or working remotely. For many people who work from home, the country is often cheaper than the city because of housing costs.

Some of the young people escaping to the country talked to Vice Magazine in a series of interviews to explain why. Most of their answers broke down to three reasons. First of all, they found the city’s constant stimulation exhilarating at first but it became too much. Secondly, they simply wanted to experience what they felt was their natural environment. And lastly, they actually found the loneliness of the country less than the city. They said that despite the constant stimulation, modern cities can be surprisingly isolating. Everyone is moving at breakneck speed, and they don’t even know their neighbors’ names. 

What everyone who talked to Vice Magazine shared in common was the need to slow down, and the calming experience of nature. And being more comfortable in a natural environment is no accident. Time in nature can improve creativity, energy levels, and health, along with decreasing anxiety and depression, reports Scientific America. The human mind naturally knows how to deal with nature. A forest full of rustling leaves and singing birds stimulates the mind without stressing it.

Retreatism: It’s All Happened Before 

Of course, it isn’t all milk and honey. Almost everyone interviewed by Vice Magazine also commented on the weather. It becomes much more of an issue when a foot of snow can cut you off from the world for a week, or knock out power, or cave in a roof. Also that city amenities aren’t what they were used to in the city. According to one, the lack of good pizza, and the lack of good curry according to another.

This isn’t the first age of retreatism. Parts of society often turn their back on the frenetic pace of cities when that pace is made even more rapid by major change. After the incredible growth of the 1950s, many hippies retreated to the backwoods in communes and barely sustainable farms in the 1960s. In the 19th century, as the Industrial Revolution made cities mires of factories and coal smoke, the culture was dominated by writers and artists from the natural-focused Romantic movement. Even in the ancient Roman Empire, philosophers and statesmen abandoned Rome for quieter communities in the hills.

Even as backlashes happen, not much seems to have stopped the long-term advancement of cities. When the Romantic movement started in England at the beginning of the 19th century, most people still lived in the country. As of 2014, over 82 percent lived in cities.

Some people will always be drawn to escape the extreme pace of the city. It’s good that there is a place to get away from the noise and stress of city life.

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