Life in a modern western metropolis is easy, safe, and comfortable. Buildings keep us sheltered from the rain and sun, concrete on the ground keeps the rocks and dirt away, climate control keeps the hot and cold outside, cars save us from expending our own energy, restaurants and grocery stores eliminate the hazards of hunger, a city agency makes sure animals stay off the streets, laws keep almost everything orderly and civilized. We’re always well fed, normally well rested, rarely wet or cold, almost never in any significant danger….even smelling something foul is unusual. We take for granted that these features of modern city life are good things… that the safety and comfort makes us happier. We’re starting to reconsider all this.
Imagine for a moment a futuristic way of life where safety and comfort are even more perfected than in modern cities. Imagine you can work from your perfectly stable climate controlled home through your computer, avoiding the need for a commute. Imagine that food and groceries are delivered to your front door by robots, and prepared for you by advanced kitchen appliances. Imagine you can use virtual reality goggles to interact with friends and family anywhere in the world, and simulate any other “worldly” experience you want for free, but of course without the slightest danger or discomfort of the real world. Owning a car, taking a subway, putting on a jacket, or even going outside would become totally unnecessary because you could do everything inside from your home. A worthy aim for the next century might be the total elimination of every imaginable inconvenience, discomfort, and danger using innovation and technology – a perfect human way of life.
But there’s a problem with this theoretically perfect imaginary world. It’s missing something….. something difficult to describe, but something big. And the more perfect the imaginary utopia becomes, the more the idea becomes an obvious and epic failure. Exactly why is difficult to put into words, but It’s got something to do with being a human.
When we moved out of the city 18 months ago and into a 56 foot plastic tub, we gave up many of the “desirable” features of a city life. We often find ourselves sweating from heat, dripping with saltwater, chilled from a storm. The wind blasts us, the sun burns us, the waves rock us, mosquitoes bite us. We walk for miles, lift heavy objects, hitchhike, kill fish on the back deck, knock our heads on low beams, scrape our bodies on coral, pick fruits from trees, bang things with hammers, change oil, repair toilets, snap ropes, and climb masts. Our feet are always filthy, our toenails even get ripped off from time to time. Mold is a problem in our lives, and things around us often stink.
So the funny thing about this damp and smelly life of inconvenience, discomfort, and danger, we’ve found, is that nothing seems to be missing …. we’re happy the way it is and we wouldn’t change a thing. Exactly why isn’t clear, but again it’s got something to do with being human. All of our senses are fully engaged every day, we face real risks, we’re in contact with the earth, the sea, the weather, and the elements, and perhaps experiencing all this is part of what drives our human spirit.
These were some of the thoughts that went through our heads today as we hiked deep into the interior of Moorea, one of French Polynesia’s most scenic volcanic islands just 12 miles from the big island of Tahiti. After three days in Papeete (Tahit’s capital city) doing repairs and provisioning, we were glad to be back onto a lesser developed Polyenesian island where things are a bit more dangerous and uncomfortable, but also much more beautiful and “real”. As we crossed the dusty crater floor, sun blasting from above, sweat dripping from our eyebrows, we asked ourselves whether the whole concept of modern city life might have gone too far, and we think, perhaps, it has.
We’ve got one more day to explore Moorea before we resume our march westward to the “leeward islands” (the most downwind islands) of the Societies. We’ve got just a little over a week left in French Polynesia and four more islands to go, so we’ll be keeping up our usual high pace.