Taking walks is the entry drug into the quiet, solitary heaven of idleness (the next level up is “sitting on a bench without a view”). For modern Americans, idleness is a shameful, private indulgence. If they attempt it in public, they are stricken by social anxiety. They seem to fear that the slow, solitary, and obviously purposeless amble that marks “taking a walk” signals social incompetence or a life unacceptably adrift. If a shopping bag, gym bag, friend or dog cannot be manufactured, nominal non-idleness must be signaled through an ostentatious “I have friends” phone call, or email-checking. If all else fails, hands must be placed defiantly in pockets, to signal a brazen challenge to anyone who dares look askance at you, “Yeah, I’m takin’ a walk! You got a problem with that?”

In America, visible idleness is a luxury for the homeless, the delinquent and immigrants. The defiantly tautological protest, “I have a life,” is quintessentially American. The American life does not exist until it is filled up.

Venkatesh Rao, “How to Take a Walk”