Has Modern Technology Taken Away Some of the Adventure?

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I came across this interesting blog post today over at SailingWorld.com. It was written last week, as Jessica Watson was closing in on Sydney, and the end of her solo circumnavigation of the world.

In the blog, which is entitled “Adventure Lost“, author Tim Zimmeran ponders the impact of modern technology and communications on expeditions, both on land and sea. He remarks about how much easier it is for today’s sailors to complete a round-the-world journey thanks to satellite phones and Internet connections. He even argues that these tools take the “solo” portion out of the trip in some ways, noting that in the past, if you had an equipment failure or ran into trouble, you had to come up with a way to fix your equipment yourself. In those days, you were out on the ocean, truly by yourself, and loneliness and isolation were true issues that had to be dealt with. But today, things are different. Here’s a quote:

Think of all the time Jessica spent on the sat phone, talking to her family and shore team. Problem with the autopilot or generator? Get on the horn with the manufacturer for step-by-by step repair instructions. Feeling lonely and blue? Call up your Mum for a chat and some bucking up. Need an emotional lift? Read the comments on your blog.

The article is an interesting one, I find myself agreeing with a number of points. Things were definitely harder in the “old days”, when these high tech communications tools didn’t exist. On the other hand, in today’s world, in which many of these adventures are sponsored, and wouldn’t happen without that support, these tools serve as a link back to civilization to help keep us informed of what is going on. Updates to websites, blogs, and Facebook pages keep us coming back for the latest info, and that usually results in finding ways to get the sponsor’s logo in front of our eyes more often.

Advanced in technology are inevitable, and things change, as we all know. Today’s explorers and adventurers are going to find ways to leverage the tools that they have to make things safer and easier. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate what explorers went through in the past. Looking at the climbing gear that Mallory used on Everest, and comparing it to what Hillary used, you see a significant improvement. Today’s gear would seem like something out of science fiction to those guys. But do these advances in technology detract from the adventure? I’d say yes and no. I agree that the ability to communicate from just about anywhere on the planet changes the nature of a “solo” expedition, but it doesn’t detract from the accomplishments of the expedition itself.

Just how much has technology impacted the world of adventure? I’d point to another interesting quote from the story. The author says: “In 1968, sailing around the world solo and non-stop was so hard Robin Knox-Johnston could barely do it. In 2010, it is so easy a 16-year old can do it.” Hmm… when you put it that way, perhaps we have made things a bit too easy. Maybe that’s why we have 16-year olds sailing solo around the world and 13-year olds climbing Everest.

Really interesting read. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Kraig Becker

9 thoughts on “Has Modern Technology Taken Away Some of the Adventure?”

  1. It's true that some things like this are a lot easier now, there's no doubt about that. Still, when you think about it, sailing around the world by yourself is a pretty impressive feat, even by today's standards. I honestly don't care if she had a 24/7 2-way video feed and a hotline connecting her directly to Al Roker, it's an adventure that no one I know personally will ever even attempt, never mind complete.

    So, on that front, how about those people that make it seem like it's not that big of a deal anymore go try it themselves? If it's too easy, maybe they should try to complete the trip in a more purist fashion. No outside communication. No electronic gadgets. No wet/drysuit.

    How dumb does that sound in this day and age? Instead of a blog of their successful journey, we'd be reading their obituary, and asking "why the hell did his/her friends and family let him do something this stupid?"

  2. I agree that it does't detract from the accomplishment as well. I still have a lot of respect for these adventurers, and who wouldn't want to travel more safely these days if the can?

    And as I said in the post, the outside communciations is necessary for the sponsorship deals, a necessary evil in this day and age.

  3. I'm a casual adventurer, more often than not, with two kids in tow. Without modern technology, we'd have be unlikely to experience a large portion of what we have – I need my GPS/phone/blackberry to keep in touch for safety and security. And without *others* using modern technology to share their pursuits, we'd be missing out on some great live stories and tales from places we haven't been (yet).

  4. Agreed Victoria. From a purely selfish point, I love following these adventures, and seeing what these explorers are up to. Heck, without these forms of communication, I wouldn't have a blog!

  5. Yes, Kraig, I tend to agree too. There's also the 'safety net' thing where help is 'at hand'. Sure, help may not be able to access you even in a few days, but ultimately – if you can hang on long enough – you could get pulled out.

    On the other side, I also think it must be hard to be in a remote place, missing family and then speaking to them. It's perhaps almost easier to be away completely, with no contact?

    'Doing' an adventure is as much about the physical as the psychological. Seems the psychological is made easier and more tolerable with comms and being able to reach out?

    Then again, where the technology exists, we adopt it, whether clothing and gear or communications, navigational aids and such.

    Communications – like updating sponsors and followers on the progress of the adventure – is pretty much compulsory if you want funding and support.

  6. Firstly, what a great blog. Where has it been (or where have I been)?

    The same argument made today by purists could have been made yesterday by purists too. Maybe in 1968 they didn't have sat phones, but I bet they had materials and technologies that weren't around in 1928. Maybe, in a similar vein, people in 1968 said, "see how soft we've become, we rely so much on technology that people can sail around the whole world". 🙂

    Anyway, amazing stuff by Jessica. And Jordan too.

  7. If only every person in the world would follow all the rules that you gave… I think that everyone should come and visit your website
    Sato Travel

  8. All of these adventures are "relative" only to themselves. It is a mistake to compare one with another. Lewis and Clark would not consider Abe's present run from California to the Atlantic too much of an adventure; Jolilet would laugh at the Portage to Portage kayak trip down the Mississippi. Any of the Oregon Trail pioneers would chuckle at we car-campers along I-80. However, I suspect relative to Abe he has had about all the adventure he would want. And Roz on the Pacific. For us stay-at-homes to share in their adventure is a miracle; we don't have to wait for Darwin to publish his journal. And he worshiped Humbolt's adventures. Comparing one with another is only legitimate when in competition. That is another reality.

  9. Doing with or without technology is a choice.
    We can still do without GPS, satphone and even without compass or maps. But the question who dares to do this? especially in solo/unsupported ways.

    I think the only piece of technology gear important would be a PLB as it will definately save our life in case of something wrong.

    Yes, when sponsored one has to communicate more etc…
    But there's a major drawback to all this: waste of TIME & ENERGY.

    Some explorers use 1 hour per day to communicate, check emails, film, take photos etc…
    In unsupported treks, it means this gear has to be carried (photo, video, tripod, SatPhone, solar panels and sometimes laptops)

    In the desert I crossed 2 years ago, if I had none of the video/photo/comms gear, I would probably have cut off 20% off the total time of the expedition. Less weight = faster, safer = less food & water = decrease more weight etc.

    In adventure expeditions, the primary tasks are:
    * progressing the most km/miles per day
    * camp to sleep & eat.
    All the rest is what we need to do for the press, media or scientific purpose.

    In extreme wilderness, (I'm not talking about sailing) I do believe that mentally strong people who do not not to lift up their spirits or check comments on their blogs, will experience better the wilderness & remoteness avoiding comms. It enhances your senses, increase a return to animal instinct we all have deep inside our genetic code.
    I learned much more about myself lost in Tasmania for 2 weeks without any comms, without seing humans, without talking, without even seeing mammals than being in the desert having a chat every week or receiving SMS on my SatPhone.

    Question is: are we allowed today to go extreme without any safety comms ? do sponsors believe in hard core adventurers without comms as values to promote after the expedition or do they still want expeditions where we call, chat and share hours per day making in a way the expedition EASY compared to 100 years ago ?

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