⛵ VOYAGE #01 — by Nick Jaffe — September, 15, 2020
Welcome to the second edition of VOYAGE: your positive feedback on edition #00 was much appreciated - I will admit, there is a certain trepidation involved when firing off a handful of thoughts to thousands of souls. But here we are, mostly unscathed.
Our scarcest resource, or perhaps our only true resource, is our attention and how we use it to direct our energy. For anyone who took a moment to listen to the DBC Pierre podcast I mentioned in #00, one of the ideas he brought up around attention has haunted me all week. As a species, we specialise in the art of monetisation and extraction. We monetise skills and ideas and extract value from our natural environment. The idea that our attention has value for advertisers is nothing new, however Pierre used the phraseology of ‘mining’ in relation to how online platforms extract value and attention from us. It was the terminology he chose which has kept me up at night — the idea that our very minds are being mined. We are in effect reaching the limits of what can be mined from the earth and the miners are redirecting their attention to mining human attention.
While sitting in a guarded campsite in South Africa (yes, campsites are security-fenced and guarded, a story for another time perhaps), four satellites, perfectly spaced, apart flew overhead and vanished. Moments later, three satellites in the same formation behaved in the same manner. Soon after, another four flew past. With astonishment I wondered whether I was finally witnessing something truly unexplainable. As someone who has spent a lot of time totally alone, in very remote, very dark, and very scary places, I have yet to witness something which could not be explained through rational means. Ok, ok, I lie, I witness the world itself on a daily basis and I cannot truly understand why there is something instead of nothing)… Anyway, I digress, the satellites: after some creative Googling, I worked out it was Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites in some kind of crazy formation orbit, which are soon to beam down Internet from pole to pole, blanketing our blue dot in bits. Pole to pole coverage used to be limited to the Iridium network, an archaic cobbling of satellites which still generates those beautiful handshake notes on connection, each tone being a harmonic negotiation of the communication parameters. I recall being mid-ocean, dialling up my email provider via a tiny ASUS laptop on my chart table, slowly sending off coordinates and love letters: when all you hear is the sound of the ocean, the creaking of the hull, your own thoughts and the slapping of sheets for weeks on end, I can tell you an Iridium connection handshake becomes a joyous Max Richter symphony.
When we can effortlessly receive notifications on how our bitcoins are performing while walking the icy shores of the Ross Archipelago, I wonder how our minds will fundamentally change from the perspective of psychogeography. I mean this in the sense that: when remoteness no longer exists because communication is ubiquitous and truly global, has the planet become frontierless? Does ubiquitous planet-wide coverage shrink the earth to a point where remoteness no longer exists? Or are we already post-remote and I’m harking on about a golden age which sailed long ago? Yes, today we can handshake over Iridium, however globally blanketed broadband is the difference between sending a letter to a friend and suddenly being able to fly over for a visit. Planetary-wide broadband is an open-cut mine, providing access to an unlimited number of minds.
As someone who has sought all kinds of faraway places — from deserts to oceans to islands, remoteness to me is where we truly experience freedom, from a physical perspective. Core inner-freedom on the other hand is more of a mental state — something of a cerebral matter. While I do feel as though physical remoteness is on the decline (both because of access to travel & communications), cerebral freedom is also being chipped away at from every angle — every distraction, every tug on our attention — it seems like so much discipline is required these days! The ever-growing canon of books on the art of discipline isn’t exploding for no reason.
As far as I can tell, inner-freedom is the last bastion of private space. One of the beautiful things I used to think about when I was alone at sea, was how private and uninterruptible my tiny floating capsule was. I cannot express to you how special it feels to know that there is no one on earth who is going to interrupt your experience (except of course that one time I made a misjudgement and nearly got run over by a freighter)… However, generally speaking, I truly loved the privacy of being out there alone, with my own thoughts in an uninterrupted experience of wild natural reality. In a way, I think my desire to immerse myself into the sublime sea, was really an attempt to seek out a physical representation of the private space inside my own head: to seek out what I believed to be the last bastion of human freedom in real space: the ocean.
During these pandemic times I have pondered freedom a lot. I’ve wondered whether my freedom was taken away from me, or whether I have been given the greatest gift of all: forced to slow down. To stop. To think. To be. I am still undecided — sometimes I wake up and look at a map, wondering where I might have been right now if Penny the Land Rover and I were still out seeking African vistas… Other days I wake up and walk past the stairs, the sun throwing an identical shadow across the landing as the day before - I have succumbed to routine, something I’ve spent a lifetime avoiding. Is this freedom or is this hell? I wonder. I still don’t know.
I did a talk over Zoom this last week to some 80 kids on the subject of writing and journeys, revolving around the quote “Not all those who wander are lost” by J.R.R Tolkien. Who is lost, who is found and who is saved? The older I get the more and more I realise that nobody knows. In fact the older I get, the more I realise that if anyone claims to know the answers, they are more than likely the ones to be most avoided.
Where lies truth, freedom and reality? Most likely it begins with the militant guarding of our attention.
Our most precious resource.
As a photographer with too many cameras, I am often plagued with dangling straps. One moment I need a strap for a walk, the next it’s annoying me on a tripod trying to shoot a product. I recently discovered anchor links by Peak Design - a neat solution to solving the problem of quickly removing or transferring a camera strap to another camera. With a workshop full of leatherworking equipment, I decided to fashion my own strap utilising these links. The outcome is a clean, minimal & functional strap made from full-grain Italian leather and two sets of anchors.
My primary Instagram / Website & work / YouTube Channel / Workshop Instagram / Airbnb / Twitter
If there is something you’d like me to riff on in the next edition or delve into further personally — simply reply to this email.
Colophon: written in Markdown with a dash of CSS in iA Writer, captured via Squarespace + Zapier & shipped to you via Buttondown + various tubes.