In the fall of 2005, Magda and I decided to sell off most of our possessions and embark on an extended period of travel.
The reasons for this were many.
Magda had a distinct feeling of being stuck.
We had figured out a way to coast through our life as freelance graphic designers/artists. We had developed a well-worn, carefully cultivated, comfortable rut of routine in Toronto. Our combination of skills and our solid network of business contacts and friends assured that we would be able to maintain a subsistence level artist existence in the city, although that year we were getting a bit more in debt every month. Although our apartment and such was comfortable, there was very little social wiggle room and the resulting torpor was upsetting to Magda. This is a very frustrating situation for someone who thrives in a rich environment characterized by rapid changes.
Our personal evolution was at a standstill. We needed to shake things up.
Stability is going to get increasingly harder to maintain.
While we were coasting in Toronto, irreversible climate change was confirmed. A significantly large coalition of scientists had agreed that by the end of this century the arctic ice cap would no longer be frozen in the winter. It is very difficult to imagine the implications of global climate change. The weather is a complex system that currently evades humanity’s best methods for understanding, modeling and predicting it. A few things were clear however; our current North American lifestyle and its relatively excessive levels of consumption were going to have to change radically.
Every aspect of city living will have to adapt to these new conditions in the next 50 years. Unlike previous generations where the threat of resource collapse was debatable and a response to the “potential” crisis could be postponed indefinitely into an unforeseeable and only potential future, our generation has to acknowledge that by the time we reach the positions of power and authority now occupied by those 10 – 15 years older than us, by the time we are expected to take the reins of civilization, we will be in the midst of an enormous climatological and consequently economic and social upheaval. The nature of this state of disruption has been compared unfavorably to the death throes of previous human civilizations.
We were not going to learn how to adapt to this new situation by coasting along in our comfortable lives. It seemed like a good time to initiate necessary change.
Hive mind activating.
By virtue of relatively new internet technologies, particularly the blog and the RSS feed, we have been learning about an incredible awareness of and movement towards sustainability in all aspects of global culture. Big business, scientists, NGO’s, i.e. numerous entities of all sizes, organizational complexity and political affiliation, representing an incomprehensibly large group of individuals are now working to realize something that resembles the utopian civilization seems to be embedded in the collective unconscious of the species. The critical mass of activity that is required to facilitate change at the required rate in order to shift this civilization’s principle models of organization, maintenance and development to allow for it to squeeze through a narrowing aperture of survival seems to be reaching a credible level.
In other words, the window of opportunity for the civilization of h. sapiens to make it into the next millennium appears to be closing. However there seems to be a vast number of humans working towards adapting this civilization so that it might actually fit through this window.
It is also important to understand that it is only the relevant, sustainable, cooperation based systems and technologies that appear to be fluid and adaptable enough to survive this transition. Top down capitalism, wealth driven democracy and fundamentalist exploitations of spirituality – any system that is based on exclusion and exhibits the traditional hierarchies of power and control will not fit through this window. They will simply lack the flexibility and speed to adapt at the required rate of change.
The most amazing thing about this collective action is that many of these groups are acting without a common strategy, without a centralized leadership, they are each moving towards their own specific goals, knowing of course that they are not alone in their intentions but not knowing of the massive scale to which this collective action has grown.
Communication technology in its application as a tool for education and cooperation is fundamental to this movement. Movement is too small a word to convey the significance of this phenomenon. In times of optimism it feels much more like the nascent comprehension of the next stage of human civilization.
These ideas are not ours but we have now understood them for ourselves and are attempting to apply them directly to our life.
Lightening the load on us and, ideally, the planet.
One sure way to find ourselves in a rich environment characterized by rapid changes was to adopt a mode of existence that was fundamentally nimble and could be carried with us through these changes. In other words, traveling.
Traveling can teach us a number of things:
- By adopting a semi nomadic lifestyle we would be forced to deal with issues that could easily be avoided by a sedentary one – you become much more aware of all the baggage you cart around, as well as being much more appreciative of any opportunities to eat, sleep and shit.
- Cooperation, submitting to the good will of other people, becomes a regular fact of life. We are ejected from the cocoons we tend to build for ourselves in times of abundance and security.
- Also by removing ourselves from a known and secure environment we are attempting to train ourselves to be able to deal with the unexpected, to recognize opportunities that will enable us to thrive in uncertain conditions and to take those opportunities without hesitation.
Travel costs money.
Magda and I are rich in skills, experience, eye-hand coordination and time. Recognizing this, we thought that perhaps with the aid of technology (laptops, the internet, international electronic banking) we could travel and work and learn. Since 2005 we have designed websites, logos and murals, sold photographs, jewellery and art, had art shows, wrote articles and comics – the list goes on, and all from the road.
One interesting effect of the decision to go nomad is that our “subsistence level” artist incomes based on these activities would not allow us to travel in more expensive (i.e. first world) countries. Fortunately, the internet seems to have reached institutional status in most developing countries around the world. It’s remarkably easy to find the patience needed to deal with dodgy connections during deadlines in the tropical heat when a little money earned from clients back home goes such a long way in the host country. Events such as not-infrequent power outages are also easier to handle in a host culture that generally moves along at a slower, calmer pace, where richness is derived from a life lived moment by moment.
In the time that we have been traveling in Central America and South East Asia it would seem that the current conditions of living in a developing country mimics the conditions which the “developed” world will have to face in the coming century. The first world understanding of wealth centered around the accumulation of money and material security is going to be useless to us as humans as we attempt to deal with the implications of rebuilding a civilization based on the politics of scarcity.
This condition of scarcity is already a fact of existence to billions of humans in the “developing” world. The technology that is currently being deployed in these parts, where people are dealing with a situation that already resembles the resource deprived future into which we are all headed, is the technology that most clearly points the way towards the evolved civilization to which Magda and I are irresistibly drawn.
Networking = Sharing + Learning
Magda and I are both convinced that language is the primary tool for the advancement of the species. Human imagination and inventiveness, the ability to anticipate the future is based on the facility one has to manipulate language as thought (and subsequently speech, writing, music). The ability to communicate these ideas is also based on one’s language facility. The idea of language refers not only to traditional, cultural/geographically varying modes of speech and writing, but also to the ability to communicate visually. I can only speak one language! Traveling is to be a means of learning first hand the languages of others or, more accurately, how other people think.
Some other things to understand…
Our current course of action is as much of an experiment as it is a strategy. We are not sure exactly where we are going, and that is part of the exercise.
It is our intention to free ourselves from our previous mode of existence shaped by a mostly sedentary life in a North American city so that we might be able to explore the numerous possibilities for a sustainable existence that are offered by the natural and technological world.
It is also very important to understand that we are not motivated by despair, rather by the thrill of participating/contributing to systemic change. We love many aspects of our current civilization (big city life included) probably much more than the average contemplative individual. And we are very interested in preserving the really valuable elements of our culture, especially our evolving capacity for communication.
We are both idealists with strong imaginations, so why not attempt to live a dream?
See many more photos on the Happy Sleepy Flickr collection .
Marc Ngui’s art and projects can be found on the Bumblenut Pictures website.
Magda Wojtyra’s art and design portfolio is located on the RNA Studio website.