When I was a kid, there were basically two types of people who wore backpacks: young folks traveling across Europe, and hardy souls embarking on a camping or mountaineering expedition. In both of these cases, backpacks served as a cheap and practical way to transport necessary items for arduous trips.
Now I notice that practically everyone carries a backpack, and I can't understand why. Along with being unsightly, backpacks have become as ubiquitous as baseball caps, mobile phones and obesity.
Most of the backpackers I see on a daily basis are clearly not going on safari through the Sahara, or contemplating scaling Mount Kilimanjaro, but they insist on burdening their bodies by carrying up to 20, 30, 40, even 50 pounds of “provisions.”
What are they carrying? Do they really need all the items they lug across the city to their jobs or schools or wherever? I can understand students needing to carry computers and books to school, but laptops, which almost everyone now owns, are flat and lightweight. They also preclude the need for bulky textbooks and notes since all of the documents can easily be stored on their PCs.
Yet I see young people (presumably students) carrying huge, overstuffed backpacks that seem to hold all of their worldly possessions. Ironically, they remind me of photographs I have seen of desperate refugees forced to carry all their belongings to a new destination through hostile and dangerous terrain.
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As society matures and technology advances, logic dictates that we should be carrying fewer and fewer things for our daily rituals. But just as with the emergence of many tech "innovations" in recent years, our lives are only becoming more cluttered, complicated and conflicted.
I have never worn a backpack in my life and see absolutely no reason to purchase one. I believe in travelling light -- whether it’s across town or across the ocean. If I ever needed to carry my laptop somewhere, I have a perfectly fine (and lightweight) carrying case for it.
But I suspect that people who carry an ungodly and wholly unnecessary number of items for ordinary, mundane journeys reflect a kind of addiction -- the obsession with accumulating physical objects, in other words -- or even a sickness.
I used to work with a woman who brought not only a backpack but also a suitcase on wheels just to come to work. Curious as to why, I asked what she carried in these huge containers. In answer, she opened the bags to reveal a veritable trove of useless junk and detritus, everything from books, newspapers and magazines to T-shirts, makeup, candy, soda, combs, brushes, etc. Essentially, things that might be nice to have for her commute but were utterly inessential for her job.
She was quite likely mentally ill. Then again, many, many otherwise seemingly normal and sane people like to carry half of their household items with them for a simple trip to the office.
I believe that for some of these folks, there is a kind of psychological obsession at play. That is, a desperate need to hold onto familiar items from home in the cold, cruel, outside world. Perhaps being close to all these familiar items in an "alien" environment makes one feel more comfortable.