Our generation’s frontier is digital

Space is awesome. Space is exciting. Space is right there on the edge of our atmosphere, and though we are taking tentative steps into its Cosmic ocean (and “the waters seem inviting“) we’re still, 50+ years on from our earliest efforts, barely venturing beyond Low Earth Orbit. Sure there’s Mars rovers and New Horizons and the Voyager space crafts, but when it comes to people, the Moon is as far as we’ve gone and we’ve not been there since the ’70s.

This is why so many people are excited for a Mars mission, expected sometime in the 2030s, but it’s also why a phrase/meme has popped up in recent years with increasing regularity. Invariably when a discussion about space occurs, someone will say with much melancholy, “we’re too late to explore the Earth, too early to explore the universe.”

To an extent this is true. Most of Earth’s land mass has now been mapped out and in many ways colonised and most of our Galaxy and indeed our solar system is still decades or centuries away from feeling the burn from a human rocket booster.

Beyond implying that someone posting on an online forum about space travel would have been a frontier pushing astronaut if born a hundred years from now, or an intrepid sailor and explorer if born centuries before – sure they would – this statement, as fun and feeling-encapsulating as it is, it’s also overlooking what our generation’s frontier is: digital.

Yea, our time sucks...

Yea, our time sucks…

Never before have people been able to communicate with one another in the fashion we do today. The fact that you are reading this, perhaps on a handheld device more powerful than any space craft sent up prior to the ‘oos is an incredible achievement. In the past 20 years we’ve pushed digital boundaries further than ever before, in games, experiences, communication and art. But it’s virtual reality that will be our true wilderness to explore.

Putting on a VR headset and stepping into a digital world that’s well made, gives you a sense of child like wonder. You’ll look around and under things just to see what it looks like from another angle. You’ll marvel at simple lights and sounds – it’s real early days and it’s so exciting because of that fact. We are going to be able to go anywhere in space and time and nobody really knows what that’s going to mean yet.

Are we going to have to deal with digital addictions where people don’t want to come out? Are we going to have truly transformative experiences by being given a chance to do things that only a handful of humans have ever done? What about things no one has ever done. How will that change us as individuals and as a species?

Can we end conflicts by having digital meetings between two people who would otherwise murder each other if face to face?

These are the sorts of explorative questions we can ask (and hopefully answer) over the next 50 years. We may not get to explore the far reaches of space, and we may have missed out on the chance to marvel at the wonders of our own blue marble, but we get to dive into the galactic expanse of virtual reality, which has the potential to be bigger than any frontier we’ve ever pushed before.

Not giving that its due, is selling our time very short.