It was only two centuries ago that the people of Britain were living in a true age of discovery. Expeditions steered by ambition and a driving inquisitive force were sailing to find new land, new cultures, new foods and spices. What a wonderful time it must have been, to pander to that inner male that shouts “Go Forth Good Fellow! Discover all that is true and undiscovered!”
Why do we do it? What drives us out of our caves and into the modern age? Are we hard coded to follow a path of discovery? In a world we knew so little about, what a fulfilling feeling it must have been to set foot on new land, but those days are gone, and there’s precious little left to explore.
Bruce Parry, Bennedict Allen, and Ranulph Fiennes are part of a dying breed of men. A dying breed of role model. If men can no longer discover, then what are we men to aim for collectively? Richard Branson is going to put ordinary folk into space, but that’s no adventure, you just have to be rich to qualify. That’s no more an adventure than taking out a bank loan! Can’t he hide the tickets all around the world in a cryptic mission of discovery? Come on Branson you ruthless bastard, throw us a bone.
What about the search for extra terrestrial life? That’s an adventure we can all take part in surely? Just thinking about it conjures images of monitors displaying uber futuristic space imagery coupled with exciting blips of strange noises to a sci-fi 50’s soundscape. “What was that?!” you might shout, from the your darkened research bunker, “They’re trying to communicate! Watson, decode the signal and put it on screen!”
The reality is a far cry from our inner desire for adventure, it’s a slow and cumbersome process in which nothing ever really happens. Even when something does happen, like you know, DISCOVERING A FRICKING SIGNAL, no one even tells anyone.
Take for example Ragbir Bhathal, an astrophysicist at the University of Western Sydney, he actually heard one of these signals back in 2008. An actual real life signal from a planet other than our own. You’d THINK that would be interesting enough for an adventurous “BREAKING NEWS!” that interrupts television broadcasting, but we got nothing. Caution, procedure and process stood in the way. Way to ruin our collective sense of adventure science, thanks for nothing.
So where do we men turn to satisfy our desperate need for discovery? Where can we try to make sense of our world and not have the red tape of science pooping our party? Around 15 years ago, a generation of young boys were presented with a new toy that claimed to harbour just about everything in the world… ever. “Wonderful!” we all shouted! “Adventure is just a click away!”
Back in 1997 I remember this moment well. I came downstairs to find my dads computer with the lid off, wires, transistors, and screws were strewn across the desk. My dad had physically attached something to the inside of the computer. “So, I can go anywhere with this internet thing?” I asked him, “so they say” he replied.
“CHINA!” I typed, and sure enough, China was beamed from the other side of the planet, down some exciting flashing fibre optic cables, through a 28.8kbps modem and onto my 256 colour screen. As the pixels revealed themselves line by line I waited with baited anticipation. There it was, a picture of a Chinese person eating noodles. Aged just 12, my jaw dropped. “I’M LIVING IN THE FUTURE! AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOW!” I shouted. That was the beginning of a long and difficult battle. This would be my adventure. This was my Everest.
13 years later and I’m still climbing. The top of the mountain isn’t anywhere in sight, I’ve grown weary, but I keep going. It was a lonely journey at first, but by 2004 I discovered millions of people were following my path. It made things easier and stamped a real sense of progress into proceedings.
Collectively, we know that whatever is at the top of this mountain has never been discovered, and that makes this journey an adventure. Of course, my adventure doesn’t really involve climbing anything, it involves reading, finding, questioning, voting, and structuring information. It’s certainly a much less glamorous adventure than marching diligently to the North Pole, but I’d argue that at least my adventure serves a purpose.
The male mind looks at broken things and considers, “how might I fix that?”. In many cases, men obsess over finding the answer, especially if the answer seems within reach. Is this what we’re seeing in the age of information? A generation of young men see the world as broken and they’re searching to find the solution?
In a digital Indiana Jones adventure we stand on the edge of reality, staring into the information abyss convinced, that in there, in that swirling black hole of information, lies the answer. No one knows what happens when we find it, or in what form that answer will come, we just know it’s in there somewhere. Just one more click, connect one more dot, and we’ll come up with the solution.
Your intellect is no longer bound by your profession but by your curiosity. Your ideas are no longer restricted by your culture. You’re free to dream up anything, any concept, and any skill, and you can share that idea with the world with an instant feedback loop. No waiting around, no two years of research, it’s instant information gratification. Constant discovery – this is our adventure. We’re creating a new digital landscape for everyone to come and explore. So where is it leading us?
The pessimistic view would argue that a generation of self centered, paranoid young people will grow up into a world they no longer fit into. They’ll snap out of their digital delusion and try, but fail, to adjust to the world they tried desperately to escape from.
The optimistic view would argue the digital generation will climb to the top of mountain where they’ll be greeted as the new rulers of the world. The old system will die at their feet and a new age of mass participation, ideas and enlightenment will begin. Wikipedia will be our bible, TED will be our church, and reddit will be our democracy. If we just keep on going, we’re sure to get there. Aren’t we?