BoomerCafe’s Greg Dobbs reminds us there are still great mysteries

BoomerCafé’s Executive Editor and Co-Founder Greg Dobbs reflects on the fact that mysteries still remain on earth despite all the advances we baby boomers have seen throughout our lives in technology and knowledge … and our own good instincts sometimes are the best guide.

Once Lewis and Clark and their crew of 29 explorers pushed north on the Mississippi out of what was then a thousand-person colony called St. Louis, nobody back in what was considered civilization knew where they were. Or how they were. Or even if they were still alive.

Greg Dobbs

Greg Dobbs

Not for the two-and-a-half years they were gone. You might call that the good old days.

Because in the time of President Thomas Jefferson, who sent them to search for a passage to the Pacific, nobody expected to know. It was 1804. No cell phones, no email, no TV or radio or texting or GPS or, I declare with a trace of envy, Facebook. To put the age into perspective, not only was there no such thing as high-tech electronics, but no one to that point in history had ever even traveled faster than the speed of a galloping horse.

Now, fast forward (a phrase reflecting technology they hadn’t yet invented in the age of Lewis & Clark) to 2014, an age when we expect to be able to know (whether we need to or not) where everyone is, every second, every day. Not just because many people bend over backwards to tell us where they are on Facebook and Twitter and other social media (another phrase of which 19th-Century citizens were blissfully bereft), but because if they don’t tell us, there are other apps we can use to find out. Not to mention the involuntary traces that can be put on us thanks to our smartphones, which pinpoint our whereabouts from their unceasing emission of signals. And I won’t even bring up the NSA.

So isn’t it amazing that we’ve found out from two major news stories in the past month how much we still don’t know?! An army moves into someone else’s territory and takes it for its own … and no one saw it coming. A 200-ton airplane disappears from everyone’s radar… and no one saw it go.

The disappearance of MH370 has been compared to Amelia Earhart, the legendary aviator who vanished during a flight over the Pacific Ocean in 1939.

The disappearance of flight MH370 has been compared to Amelia Earhart, the legendary aviation pioneer, who vanished during a flight over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.

Sure, maybe you can chalk some of it up to human error;  in simple terms, maybe someone in each case was asleep at the switch. But I prefer to chalk it up to something more basic: that while we have the means to know more about our world than we ever knew before — and from the standpoint of understanding our global environs, that’s a good thing — there is still some mystery in life, and hopefully there always will be.

What we know for sure is, while computers now can beat even the highest-ranked Grandmasters in a game of chess, there are some things they still don’t do. Like infer the intent of Russian soldiers crossing into Ukraine, or track an airplane on an overnight flight to Beijing … let alone find it once it has disappeared.

I’m not anti-tech, but I am pro-human. And if the characteristics that set us apart from computers mean that from time to time we are still left in the dark, that’s just fine with me. With nothing more than their own good instincts and the sage support of a young Indian woman named Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark not only found the Pacific; they also found their way back.

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  1. A thought-provoking perspective, Greg–as well as an interesting take on those two recent events. Still, here’s something to consider–how many people would have been able to read the above post even, say, 20 years ago compared with now? I love that technology has expanded our reach and allows us to connect with people whose paths we would have never otherwise crossed. I’m not anti-human–just pro-tech. 🙂 But I appreciate what you’ve shared here.

  2. An interesting and I admit shared perspective. I also share Mary Anne’s above. The genius of humanity and the support technology brings amazes me. But sometimes it is also good to be reminded that life is still filled incredible puzzles and mysteries that still need to be solved.

  3. Love your balance with perspective Greg. The advantages of technology to our expanded knowledge come with a cost of intrusion on our personal lives and privacy. Would Lewis and Clark embrace the new learning we uncover (much today through technology) or take human political stands from one side or the other side, on say global warming or medical marijuana? As human explorers, I tend to think their instincts would have them embrace the new findings, untethered by politics. As for the NSA, I suppose the agency could have followed the explorers every step of the way.

  4. I appreciate your perspective; I also value how far technology has come. The year we graduated from college, my husband hosed the ONE computer on the campus (which took up the entire basement of the admin building) with his thesis. As a retired teacher, I am amazed and perplexed that the information of the world is now in our student’s hands – teaching has changed from a need to research to a need to problem solve. There are still so many things to explore…just differently!

    That being said, my husband and I have learned the value of shutting off all of the screens and just being together for a good portion of the day. Oh, and while I love my Nook, you’ll never replace a good book!

  5. Excellent post and some very thoughtful comments too – and I agree with everybody here! I’d just like to add that I often feel nostalgia for an earlier time when everything went slowly because along with the slow pace came depth of understanding and greater sensitivity to art and beauty. It seems like now we don’t have time to slow down and simply enjoy ourselves…

    PS I too love my Kindle but it can never replace the pleasure of holding a good book in one’s hands!

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