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Is modern communication destroying adventure..?


Technology has entered our modern lives with a vengeance.  Whether we like it or not, the digital age has crossed the globe and there seems little escaping it.  I recently spoke at TEDx Derby, and challenged an audience of creative and technology driven people to think differently about the umbilical cord of the mobile phone, wi-fi and worldwide web…

Homo Sapiens have existed on earth for between 400,000 and 250,000 years.  We have explored the planet without reliable supplies of electricity for over 249,800 of them and survived quite well, but now we seem unable to live without it.  So what makes us so reliant on this medium which charges lights, drives engines and powers communication devices..?  Is it the quest for improvement and technology.  What however, if that technology begins to invade adventure..?

Lets define adventure – Excitement associated with danger or the taking of risks: A reckless or potentially hazardous action or enterprise.  Risk is essential in adventure.  To feel at risk heightens your feeling of excitement, and allows you to truly experience and appreciate your situation.  Now I don’t mean you should take risks for the sake of taking them, but I do think we should somehow scare ourselves every day.  You will feel much more alive.  The problem is, that by allowing the norm of your life to enter your adventures, you begin to remove that risk.

I wonder if Scott would have been saved if Twitter had worked in the early 20th century..?Would Ernest Shackleton’s heroic antarctic feat have ever happen if he’d had the internet..?  Shackleton and his men would have never embarked on one perilous journey after another, if they had been able to let someone know where they had been stranded with a post on Facebook.

I owe my life to technology.  The only reason I’m here is because I was able to make a distress call, via radio when stuck on Mt. McKinley in Alaska.  A couple of garbled messages saved three of us, but they were emergency calls.  We weren’t surfing the web, posting live tweets as we froze to death.  In my view, technology has a place, but it should be used responsibly…

As my disaster unfolded, my family received a telephone call from the USA, informing them of my situation.  That is bad enough, but there have been a number of recent accidents where families are finding out the fate of their loved ones via someones blog post.  To me, that is truly awful.

For me, technology makes the world a smaller and less interesting place.  It shrinks the distances between countries and merges cultures, without you actually experiencing them.  Real adventure doesn’t just come from the journey itself, but when you feel cut off from your normal way of life, being in a situation that forces you to accept what you find, and become absorbed by it.  Being isolated can also be exciting, since it often bring on a feeling of risk.  Unfortunately the feeling of a digital umbilical cord makes it much more of a challenge to experience the unfamiliar.  In short, modern adventures aren’t, in my view, so adventurous.

There is another worry, and that how we record of our communication for future generations.  Electronic devices have obsolescence built-in, and what we write today could be useless in a decade.  If we’re not careful, historians will know more about the beginning of the last century than the start of this one.

A 7th century BC clay tablet with Babylonian observations of Venus some 3,500 years ago can still be viewed and read, but a long string of 1’s and 0’s means little without the original reading device.  Here’s an example – William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book is still available for inspection at the National Archives in London.  It has survived the last 1000 years or so and can still be read.  Unfortunately a digital survey commissioned to mark the 900th anniversary of the book was recorded on now-obsolete 12 inch laser discs, which had to be rescued by a preservation project.

Before anyone jumps on me and calls me a Luddite, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take  your telephone, or tablet with you when you travel, but please use it responsibly.  I’ve seen more conversations killed by technology than I care, and when you’re surrounded by beautiful mountains or jungles, just open your senses and your mind to them, rather than cursing the connection speed of your social media account…

2 thoughts on “Is modern communication destroying adventure..?”

  1. On a similar vein, I strongly believe that changes in modern work practices are eroding the sense of adventure and the skill levels required at work for many ‘risk based’ jobs, leading to less satisfaction in the work place. I think particularly of Overhead line work, and Live Jointing Practices, both of which can bite if you get it wrong, but much more so in the past. An element of risk concentrates the mind !

  2. As I sit here in North Wales on my narrowboat ‘Miss Heliotrope’, reading this blog on a Mac via a 3g MiFi mobile broadband device, with the engine running to charge the batteries, I have to say I do agree with the main thrust of your argument Nigel, despite the irony of only being able to do so with the very technology in question!

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