The Lack of Global Mystery or Why I love Space.

Everyone’s seen those old-thyme lithographs of places around the world.  The Great Wall of China, or the Taj Mahal, or the Eiffel Tower.  You used to see them in old encyclopedias and postcards in boxes left by your grandparents. Or just picture any movie that is set at the turn of the last century.

The thing is, there was a time only a couple generations ago when these places were not only exotic, but downright unimaginable. Hell, it was only a generation or two before that when people were bringing Platypus specimens back from Australia and everyone thought they were fakes. That someone had sewn a duck beak on a beaver.  But I digress. They didn’t have commercial airlines or A trip to Europe was serious business that involved a week or more on a boat. Forget about India or China!  Yet there I was last Monday trying to sleep on a 8 hour flight from Paris to New York thinking about all of this.

I came to the realization that your average middle class person has it pretty good.  You could reasonably visit all of the continents (and I plan to). Well maybe not Antarctica very easily, there’s something about that that still scares me a little; too many Imax documentaries about Ernest Shackleton.  I could actually go see, hell I could go touch the Great Wall or the Taj Mahal. It’s not unreasonable at all.  Vacation time + Dramamine + Orbitz + a pinch of adventure = world traveler these days.

In fact, I’d say that if you’re going to go to all of these places, you’d better go now, while there is still a little difference between. I gotta tell you, there were about as many Starbucks and McDonalds (or ‘mack-doe’ as the Parisians say it) in Paris as there are in New York.  Sure there were any number of cute corner cafes, but they all felt the same; As if they were all there putting on a show for tourists and people seeking the romance of a Paris from 50 years ago.  And this homogenization of the world will only continue. Probably even faster now that the EU is gaining momentum and tries to compete with the US and Asia. So it’s best to see the differences while you can.

And I think that’s part of the problem. Well not a problem so much as an interesting shift. Maybe the world is a little too small, maybe there is too little unknown left.  King Kong must have seemed almost believable to some people back in the 30’s.  “Who knows? Maybe there really is an island with a giant ape!”  Sure every once in a while they find some new species of deer in the rainforest or whatever, but it’s not like a “Lost World” is waiting to be discovered somewhere off the coast of Costa Rica.

Download an app like Google Earth and you can fly across and zoom into high resolution maps of the whole world as if you were a god. Just imagine what Magellan or any military leader of the past 2 millennia would have given for that kind of power. It’s really mind-blowing if you think about it. If anyone needs an example of the amazing things the information age is bringing, look no further. Think of how this could revolutionize how they teach geography or history classes. One of the features I like best is that you can view the world without the geo-political borders. Much as someone first coming to the Earth would.  Which brings me to my next point.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can honestly say that I for one love Space.  As in the planets and NASA and all that jazz.  And I think a big part of the reason I like it is that we know so little about it.  The mystery of it is fascinating.  It’s also the reason that I’m a supporter of manned space flight.  Because we as humans were meant to go beyond the cave, and experiencing something in person is entirely different than looking at an image through a lens. (no comments from the peanut gallery about my photography addiction)

We need to be explorers.  And by that I don’t mean exploiters.  Too many Europeans used the word ‘explore’ over the past 400 years or so when they meant ‘exploit’ and ruined it for everybody.. so first we have to take it back. That said, I’m also fascinated by the search for the small. As in Quantum Mechanics and String theory. The common thread is the feeling that we can grasp that goal or idea or knowledge that is currently just out of reach.

Why do you think there was so much support for the moon race in the 60’s.  It wasn’t just to beat the Russians, or to carry on Kennedy’s legacy.  There was more than a healthy dose of ‘A man on the moon? That’s fucking cool!  Ya, we should see if we can do that!’.   I often point at it as one of the only times that so many resources were put toward a positive goal.  Think about it, every other time hundreds of thousands of people are mobilized it is for war.

The unknown, and things just outside our reach are a good thing, espcially for the human race.  And yes, globalization is homogenizing everything.  And yes, if your Dell breaks and you're on the phone with some guy in India, sometimes it’s hard to understand them. And yes, we still have stupid leaders hell bent on taking over the world.

But, the smaller the world gets, the more we all see how fundamentally not different we really are. How fundamentally not different the goals and teachings of our religions are. How universal access to information is the best way to shine a light into the dark corners of the world. And most importantly, how together we can make the world a better place for everyone.

Bill Wadman