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"Permanent beta" as a philosophy of travel, and life.
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Yesterday morning I put up a form to receive suggestions for smallish towns we should visit on our upcoming American Futures road-trip-by-air. The form is still live; you can find it here.

Descriptions of some 400 cities have now arrived. If you sent one in before about 11:30am EDT today, and left a valid email address, you should have received a note from me by now. If you've written since then, I'll follow up later. And if you left a fake email address, like the classic-of-its-kind TotallyFakeAddress@gmail.com (or real ones with typos, like the surprisingly common @gmail.con), know that we appreciate the suggestions all the same.

As I mentioned in my note to city-suggesters just now, my wife and I have been simply overwhelmed, in a good way, by the variety, intensity, vividness, and wit of the cases that many people have made for their towns. If we never did any actual travel, we would already know a lot more about the country. But in fact we're planning to head off tomorrow -- weather and all other circumstances permitting.

On the principle that it might be interesting for readers, and in the certainty that drawing on the experience and insight of people all around the country will be a huge plus, I'll plan soon to post a master list of currently nominated cities. That obviously will be no "final" working list. "Permanent beta," as they say in the tech world, is our motto for everything about this project,  from the places we'll go to the things we'll find to cover to the way we present it online and in print.

Which brings me to a message right now from a reader, responding to something I said in a previous note.

"We have spent a lot of time reading, interviewing, thinking about, and collecting suggestions on small cities we should visit. This process is a combination of art and science -- of planning, and allowing for surprise." [This is me; what follows is the reader.]

In 50 years or so, this is the best basic theory I have come up with about how you should live: #1) Make thorough, detailed, realistic plans, #2) Don't expect (demand that) things to work out that way--if you make a good plan, you will very likely find much, much more and better there in the process...

Life needs both: "passive/active", "contemplation/action."

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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