Reaching for the Stars with Old Technology

Here’s the random thought for the day.

In 1977, NASA launched two (then) state-of-the-art spacecraft called Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. After a grand tour of the outer planets, both spacecraft became the first man-made objects to leave the solar system.

Voyager 1 is currently 13,700,972,396 miles from the earth (which was accurate when I wrote this) but the probe is accelerating and adding approximately twenty-five miles per second to that total. Voyager 2 is a bit further behind.

Just as an aside, twenty-five miles per second sounds fast, but to put inter-stellar travel in perspective, light travels at 186,000 (give or take a few) miles per second. Voyager has been traveling for 42 years. If we fired a beam of light at it, the light would overtake the craft in twenty hours. We’ve a bit to go before we “reach for the stars.”

But I digress as I am wont to do.

Attached aboard each craft are these objects with items selected by Carl Sagan and a committee of scientists, philosophers, political figures, and others.

Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind, thunder and animals (including the songs of birds and whales). To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, spoken greetings in 55 ancient and modern languages, other human sounds, like footsteps and laughter (Sagan’s) and printed messages from U.S. president Jimmy Carter and U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim. The record also includes the inspirational message Per aspera ad astra (“through hardship to the stars”) in Morse code.

It occurred to me that a majority of people on Earth right now might not instantly recognize what these objects are, or how significant a part they played in our culture.

In just a few more years, these items might be considered evidence of alien technology. Alien in the sense that they came from a time long ago and fading away…

We’ve sent something out into space that no longer enjoys the widespread use it once did.

I can imagine, on a planet far, far way, an advanced life form examining the object and concluding that whoever sent it must be a technologically inferior species. Yet they would find a way to extract the information and copy it to their Beta tapes for distribution in their world.

Arthur C. Clark once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But what is also true, is that any sufficiently advanced technology will soon be replaced by better magic.

Technological Advances: Protecting Us from Being Human

There’s been a recent flood of devices designed to protect our immature youth. As they get driver’s licenses, we want to ensure they survive. As the hormones of sexuality begin to percolate, we want to manage the urge to procreate.

These devices let you set limits on the speed of the car, range and distance of travel. They include GPS positioning to pinpoint the hormone infused youth’s location.

All worthy goals in protecting kids as they navigate the path to becoming adults.

Yet, I wonder if this absolute control over them will have the opposite effect? Instead of a chance to earn trust through acting in a mature manner, we remove the opportunity.

We impose our well-intentioned but, I fear, harmful control trying to protect them. We rob them of the chance to learn from the consequences of bad decisions.

Instead of learning, they become unaccustomed to risk and complacent. Sheep contained in an electronic pen. Protected from wolves but unable to wander the fields of the world.

Some of my best learning experiences came from making bad decisions.

Some of man’s greatest accomplishments arose from a pile of failure.

Our desire to protect them from every possible threat denies them the opportunity to learn for themselves.

It is like encasing your child in full body armor while they learn to walk. Falling is part of the process.

Preventing inexperienced drivers from speeding is a worthy goal. How does that change once they gain experience? Is there any need for cars to travel faster than the highest speed limit? The use of technology to allow them to gain experience does nothing to teach them responsibility.

Learning to deal with the emotional and physical attraction to others is not something you can manage with an App.

As I was growing up, some of the best moments of my life happened when I was with friends at places my parents didn’t know about. It may not be the best argument, but it is the truth.

Perhaps all we need is the original app developed centuries ago. The power of communication. Take our fingers off Tweets and Email and TALK. This app requires no updates.

As I hit those teenage years, I knew what my boundaries were. I knew there would be consequences if I strayed across them. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I took measured risks in crossing those.

I learned from those moments. It is the memories of those times that still bring a smile to my face. Was there a risk? Yes, of course. Yet I would argue that it added to what made me the person I came to be.

By eliminating all risk, we raise a generation unprepared for the real world. They’ll expect life to have a reset button.

It won’t.

If we are so concerned with protecting our youth, focus on teaching them decisions have consequences. All we’re doing with technology is putting electronic prisons around them. Taking away learning opportunities in exchange for a false peace of mind.

I have always embraced technology. I am so glad this stuff wasn’t around when I was 16. We didn’t need it. Just the thought of getting caught, and facing my mother, was enough to keep me contained.

It may not have been 100% effective, but nothing ever is. No matter how much we may want it to be so.

Life Lessons from Yukon Cornelius

I am one of the fortunate ones. I grew up during the last Age of Innocence.

Technology did not rule our lives. We did not spend our time bent over a device named for a fruit. We picked fruit from trees. I realize I could not be reaching those of you reading this without technology, but I still lament the invasiveness of it.

We had toys, games, and books. None of them robbed us of the joys of scraped knees, torn pants, bee stings, catching frogs, and exploring the woods. Sharing real experiences with real friends, not virtual ones.

In other words, living life.

We did not need an app to play ball or fish, we had bats and gloves and fishing poles (even if it was just a stick.)

We did watch television. All three channels, until the snowy screen of those UHF channels arrived. Harbingers of what loomed in the future.

TV time began at 6 pm with the news, followed by two or three of our favorite sitcoms. Breaking news meant something important or tragic happened, not a reading error at a beauty pagent.

As we grew older we earned the privilege of staying up for “Late Night” TV, the late show ending at midnight. Playing of the National Anthem, a few shots of Navy Blue Angels or Air Force Thunderbirds, then nothing until morning.

Technology has robbed us of the joy of anticipation. Be it a letter in the mail, an annual showing of a movie, or TV specials. It would seem nothing is special anymore.

We looked forward to the annual broadcast of our favorite shows. Not watching it over and over on demand.

For me, I remember three the best.

The Wizard of Oz

Charlie Brown’s Christmas

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Each of them made an impact on our lives.

The first time I saw the Wizard of Oz on a color TV. Magic. If there is anyone under the age of fifty reading this, they are probably trying to figure out why TV’s came in different colors.

Linus’s speech about the meaning of Christmas. Memorable. Too bad most have forgotten it. Every time I hear Vince Guaraldi’s Linus and Lucy theme, I see Linus walking across the stage, the single spotlight on him, and he explains with just a few words the true spirit of Christmas.

For me, the one that made the most lasting impact, even without me realizing it, was Yukon Cornelius from Rudolph.

He lived a simple life. All he needed, he carried with him. When he went shopping it was for “cornmeal and gun powder and ham hocks and guitar strings.”

He knew what mattered. Living for today, be loyal to friends, and forgive your enemies. He chased his dream daily.

Of the many nice songs to come out of this show, my favorite was when Clarice sings to Rudolph, “There’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true.”

Life has a way of demonstrating that such sentiment, while touching, is false.

As many of us know, and some of my family are reminded of every December 22nd, tomorrow is promised to no one.

So, adopt the philosophy of Yukon Cornelius. If it does not fit on a sled, you do not really need it. If you have a dream, pursue it today.

Call a friend, see your family, get out and meet someone new. Do it today, spend your time wisely.

For while dreams may come true tomorrow, perhaps a call, or a letter, or (I hate to admit) even an email or a text could bring a smile to someone today.

Do not wait for a dream to come true while you have the gift of time right now.

Merry Christmas, HO HO HO, Happy Holidays, and all that stuff.