I was chatting with a friend about what he’s up to these days. He started talking earnestly about looking up his family ancestry. With the internet these days, you can quickly find your grandparents, great grandparents, great-great grandparents and even your birth mother. He had traced some parts of his lineage to the 1600s in just a month of research, and had hooked up with a distant cousin thrice-removed who was helping him track down the missing links.
As he talked, I realised he was outlining his lineage to specific parts of the country, and even specific villages. That’s not so surprising as I guess that, going into the more distant past, we would have lots of relatives in pockets of communities because people just didn’t travel. Take anyone’s family a couple of generations ago and you’d probably find all of their ancestry rooted in the same area because people didn’t really travel. You would stay in the same village or town and never leave. Why would you leave? What else is there to do? In fact, if you left, you would often find yourself in trouble. Peasants were often tithed to the land and could only leave their village if they had the appropriate papers from the Church or Lord or King, dependent upon the nature of their travels. If caught without such papers, you could be thrown into jail or worse:
People did not travel around a lot in olden times as it could be dangerous. Money was necessary and a license obtained from the Bailiff in the Guild Hall was required by anyone who needed to travel around England. It was a crime to travel without a licence. This law ensured that the spread of disease, especially the plague, was contained as much as possible and that the poor and the homeless did not travel from one village to another village. Actors who, by necessity, had to travel to earn their living and together with peddlers, pilgrims and soldiers were thought untrustworthy and potential law breakers. At the very least they would have been viewed as potential carriers of the Bubonic Plague. Strangers were treated with suspicion and risked being accused of a crime and suffering the appropriate punishment.
As I say, why would you leave and what else is there to do?
Things changed as the Victorian era ended and the automobile came into its own. Before the car, the horse was the only form of transport and it pretty much limited people to stay in their hometowns. The car, train and steam ship allowed people to move around more easily, and some did. The movement of people was not common, but there would be some who would migrate to the Americas or relocate around Europe. In many cases, this was driven by the need to work and you can see that from the histories of some of the world’s largest cities like New York.
However, in general, the masses stayed at home. That was until connectivity allowed easy movement between towns and cities for all, with cheap access to motor vehicles and a growing extension of roads. Urbanisation was under way. Today, it is a phenomenon that is causing great concern to the planet’s well-being but, back in the 1950s, it was seen as a great new thing. It enabled women to have greater equality by competing for jobs and created the mass suburb growth and interstate highways of America. Everything from family life and the end of the nuclear family to a family divided was impacted, as was how we related to each other and entertained. Travel makes a fundamental difference to how we live.
I can see that today from the third revolution in how we travel: the aeroplane. Fifty years ago, someone catching a plane was an explorer; today, planes are just buses. It still amazes me how I can easily travel around three or four countries across Europe in a day; or three or four continents of the world in a week. This would have been outrageous thinking half a century ago.
This is illustrated well by a friend of mine who has a base in London, a family in Switzerland, a holiday home that he visits most weekends in the South of France and a company based in Singapore. We do this because we can, but imagine telling a Victorian that’s how they would live a century later and they would have thought you an idiot.
And that’s exactly what you would call someone today who said your grandchildren will be living on Mars. What an idiot. Can you imagine?
Well, I can. I often talk about the fifth age of humanity, and living in space, and I feel that I may lose the audience. The next generation of humanity lives for a century or more, on average, and has all their menial tasks performed by robots. Equally, we have colonised other planets and regularly travel to them as easily as we do to remote parts of the planet today.
It is obvious that we will be going in this direction as an essential part of humanity is to explore and now that we’ve explored most of Earth, we will naturally start to explore most of space. Technology is enabling this to happen, with Space X’s reusable rockets being a case in point, and the only limitations are our imaginations.
For example, I presented this theme of the next generation of travel creating a change in humanity at a recent conference in Luxembourg. At the end of the presentation, an audience member came up to me and said: “I totally agree with your vision of Life on Mars, as Luxembourg has already patented space mining”. WTF? I said (well, near enough), and he explained:
Luxembourg stepped onto space mining’s ground floor early last year, when the Ministry of Economy announced the Space Resources initiative. Key to the program, said the official statement, “will be the development of a legal and regulatory framework confirming certainty about the future ownership of minerals extracted in space from Near Earth Objects such as asteroids.” In November, the country drafted a law permitting companies to own the resources they obtain from space … “What Luxembourg is trying to be is either the Silicon Valley of space mining, where they’re able to attract a lot of talented people and keep them there, or the Delaware of space company headquarters, where they’re attracting a lot of companies who see value in the tax advantages.”
Well, there it is.
We went from walking between villages to travelling between cities by horse and train to driving across countries to flying around the world to mining in deep space in just a short two centuries. I wonder what the 2110’s will look like?
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