INVENTORS OF CONVENIENCE RATHER THAN EXPLORATION By John Watts

 

basket support.jpg

The above picture depicts another great American invention:  the automatic basketball returner for busy basket shooters everywhere that hate to retrieve missed shots!

When I was a kid I thought of inventors and inventions as being synonymous with boldly stirring things like transportation and setting world records.  It was awe inspiring to sit on the shoulders of the Giant Explorer’s before me and imagine what their voyages entailed.

Well before adulthood kicked in with all those hang-ups and opportunity costs– every far reaching fiction and non-fiction quest alike seemed totally doable and in fact—completely mandatory for any TRUE blue, All American kid that wanted to make his life LEGENDARY!  The sky was the limit, what with all those captivatingly, vivid color action paintings from the kids adventure books in which to chart dreams!

Records and biographies back then were all about milestones: Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Rocket ships and going at the speed of sound, Stanley’s legendary voyage to Lake Tanganyika to meet Livingstone (he presumed), the Northeast Passage, The voyages of James Cook, and the all-important Lewis and Clark expedition: 1804-1806.

And of course, NASA and all its manned flights!  One can only imagine the kind of “right stuff” it would take to go into outer space.  Just glimpsing at the wrinkled little Jiffy Pop capsules they stuffed themselves into at the Smithsonian can give me a bad case of the heebie-jeebies!

But within all of those stories and exploits, fiction and non-fiction blurred as it relates to travel.  Sinbad’s adventures, the lost city of Atlantis; Marco Polo and Alexander the Great all get cast into the same grand adventure.
And I tried to live their credo for as long as I could.  “Stronger.  Bigger.  Faster.  Further.”

I dreamt of Jules Verne kind of flights of fancy.  Air balloons and sailing ships.

So I kayaked the rivers and creeks.  I sampled every trail system I could access.  It was a bit toned down I’ll grant you, from my childhood musings, with my car close to the camp-site and my toes close to the shoreline.

Still, sequences and combinations of great places were forged indelibly in my brain.  And what I lacked in daring do and being possessed of intrepid, overnight camping skills, I made up for with enthusiasm and awareness for all the physical and cultural landscapes around me that I could quickly plunge into.

But the frontiers are vastly different now and have shifted fronts.  And it’s not just some delayed reaction to Frederick Jackson Turner’s Manifest Destiny theory with all its bemoaning of squandered wilderness areas and frontiers especially as it relates to the American character for going west.

Somewhere along the way, the emphasis on inventions has shifted to a safer, more sedentary kind.

It’s all about INSTANT gratification and convenience.  Especially as it relates to labor saving and information access.

Fast forward to 2016 and the adventurous, National Geographic me from my childhood that dared to dream is now perusing the retail isles in search of better sealing, water proof storage bags or obsessing on how to get a better Wi-Fi signal.

Now we have entire industries completely obsessed with freeing our time up by inventing labor saving, convenient gadgets that allow us to have more time on our hands.

If the Phineas Fogg character in Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days” novel was plugged in to this century he would have SKIPPPED all the adventure and danger in between countries and simply just VIRTUAL traveled with as little inconvenience as possible.

Perhaps this is why the steam punk era of the late 19th century is looked back on so fondly today.  It was full of cool and completely relatable contraptions that rolled and bounced and did dramatic things; all for the sake of adventure and exploration.  Technology still retained a human touch for innovation even if it was ridiculously convoluted in doing the simple task you desired.

Now it seems that all our prospective Einstein’s are holed up in factories and basements trying to figure out a FASTER way to store things and serve food so that us satiated and satisfied American sons of pioneers can stay in our recliner chair and watch more movie channels.

Truly convenience has been taken to a Feng-shui like art form in this century.  It is omnipresent.

And what’s more—the faster we advance the more we become rendered completely helpless and feel undeserving of it all.

The humorous part is that we are often at a loss to figure out what we want to do with all our FREED UP leisure time once we earn it in the first place.

Our ideas can’t keep pace with the total amount of time freed up!

Because we really don’t need to do anything.  There are no new mountains to climb.  And the cost of travel is just too expensive and conditional.

So we strive on for reaching ever cleverer, convenient plateaus.

Check this one out for our information age:  A machine that can build any object is one such new invention. It sounds like a sci-fi fantasy, but thanks to the rise of 3-D printers—devices that can build objects from digital blueprints, usually by layering plastic or other materials—it is rapidly becoming reality.

Or how about this for the AS SEEN ON TV type of superfluous time saver:  The COOLEST COOLER.  It stores food and drinks, sure. But it also touts a blender, an LED lid light, a USB charger, a Bluetooth speaker (for tunes) and big wheels designed to navigate many terrains (beach, parking lot).

And the real beauty in all this is that even though our age of exploration is over (hover crafts being one cool exception) and we are stuck with no new places to go to express our unique Americanness; we won’t suffer too many nervous breakdowns or feel depressed about having too much time on our hands.

Because we are seeing daily improvements.  We have “Lift “n” Peel” technology (copyrighted) on our juice lids.  And just this past year I have been able to enjoy a truly scientific white, massive 7-11 extra-large coffee cup that retains the heat longer than it ever has before.  This means I save upwards of 5 minutes a week NOT having to re-heat my coffee!

And this is just in my recent lifetime!  I never had those things when I was in the 20th century!

And most important of all, we have super developed thumbs and index fingers that could easily outmatch our hopelessly overworked ancestors.  So we can squander every single second channel surfing and internet browsing thanks to all of our labor saving inventions.

Yes thanks to our inventions, we have to roam and surf while rarely looking up to see the crowded nature of our stalled Manifest Destiny.

Our information age keeps us constantly chasing our own tail in circles in search of the next pot of gold.  It medicates us away from any jarring, disillusioning perspectives regarding mortality and the aggregate ticking of time.

And if we still want to be pirates or sailors or artic explorers after all these advancements, well then we can always find an APP for that!

 

 

 

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About John Watts

I like to write transcendental community based essays and stories along with photo journalism pieces.
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