At first it was transportation. A ship would leave the shores and those left behind always wondered if, not when, they would see their loved ones again. To leave shore was to tempt the gods, to bet your life, your very existence on the unknown, and for them, the unknowable. Years pass, compasses are invented, the stars are tamed by the sextant and the men return more often than not. Continents are connected, pulled together by small wooden ships with daring, or foolhardy captains at the helm, and desperate men on deck. But still, a voyage across the sea is a question of years, not months, and few brave the open seas.
Time churns on. Faster ships, longer routes, more maps with few sea monsters to fill the empty gaps. The "new" world is discovered and claims. Now it may be just a year to get there and back, and the chance of return is high enough to attract investors, businessmen who are willing to bet on the successful return.
On land we walk by foot and most live and die within 50 kilometers of the hovel in which they were born. Domesticated pack animals horses shrunk the distance between villages from days to hours, trade expanded, specialization developed and now you could wear clothes made 100's of miles away while the weaver ate the pig you raised in your backyard pen.
Engines, steam, electricity, coal, internal combustion, each one shrank the world exponentially as time because less and less relevant. Oceans became non-issues, mountains a mere detour, deserts were crossed by camel, rail, and highway. I can sit at breakfast and eat coffee from Columbia, bacon from Canada, wine from Greece, and eggs from Santa Barbara, all while wearing the world on my back, Egyptian cotton, Chinese shoes, a German watch, and Mexican boxers and eating from plates made in Korea.
I walk in to Target and have the worlds goods at my fingertips. I walk in to World Market and have fake goods patterned on real goods, all made in China (but it makes me feel like a world traveler, only with really bad taste).
And now the internet demolishes the world once and for all, almost. I am now achingly aware of how big the world really is. I have friends all over the world. Women who make me laugh, smile, harden, ache, and type one-handed. I have friends I miss when they are gone, I can tell you exactly what time it is, any time of the day or night, in any of 9 time zones, 3 in particular, including my own. I now track the weather in 4 cities, 3 of which I have never been, and will probably never be, in. The world is small as I talk, flirt, seduce, and laugh with friends all over the world.
But miles are still miles, whether it is up the coast (400 miles), across the border (1,775), or to the far corners of the US (2,876), and on beyond the Atlantic (6353 miles/10224 km), miles are miles, and there are a lot of them. No mater how quickly I can connect through chat, e-mail, or Skype, they are hours, days, a lifetime away. The world is still a very, very, large place.