You are a member of the most fortunate generation in the history of mankind, and you don’t even know it. And, it’s not just because of what you have now, but because of what you didn’t have when you were a kid.
As children, we climbed trees, took things apart, and fell down a lot. We grew up in a time when our playtime radius stretched miles. We looked at hills and forests, wondered what might be on the other side, made up stories, and adventured out there to places that represented possibility and personal expression. Our parents pushed us out the door and told us not to come back until dinner, or until we were bleeding. We’d swim great distances, build things with our little hands, and give our own unique meaning to things we’d discover.
We had TV, but we couldn’t sit too close to it, and we certainly couldn’t take it with us. Sure, we also had Gameboy, dial-up, and Oregon Trail to entertain us and spark our sense of imagination for a time, but they were novelties, sideshows. We were the main event in our lives each and every day, because we didn’t have access to constant, ever-changing entertainment, unless it was the entertainment we created within our own minds.
But now, we live in a world of daily innovations, developments, and breakthroughs. We are witness to the great transition into a fully digital age where information and content are commonplace. The sad fact is, despite this flood of inspiration, so many of us have become numb to the things that could once fascinate. We look deeper and deeper every day into space and discover Earth-like planets so often, I’m not even sure if I’m supposed to be excited anymore.
We have access to nearly all of the world’s knowledge, and we can even attach it to our wrists, but we risk forgetting how exciting it all is without something to compare it to. So, we look back on our wild youth, and reach deep inside our memories to find a true sense of wonder. We’re fortunate to be able to remember a time where when we didn’t know something, we asked, we sought, we explored, we made it up. Now, everything we could ever want to know is a simple Google search away, but we still have the power to wonder.
We are the last to grow up without the internet, so only we truly know the awesome power of those little information machines we carry with us everywhere we go. We’ll likely be the last to drive cars (Thanks a lot, Google!), so we’ll be the last to truly know the personal freedom of the open road. We’ll be the last to have gotten lost without GPS, discovering a sense of adventure and accomplishment in finding our way home. And, we’ll be the last to experience the power and emotion of a developed photo, whether we waited one hour or even longer. Instead, our memories are to be forever outsourced to social media where they’re no longer our own. Those single photos of our youth, which encompassed so much emotion, are now replaced by 100 digital options easily captured and just as easily forgotten.
There’s great value in our growing access to technology, of course. Skype meetings and Slack chats, for example, save us and our employers time and money, but you know what I truly miss? Getting to the airport early during business trips, disconnecting, and having a beer while watching the strange mix of people passing by, and wondering about their stories — what strange adventures they might be on. It’s a moment I experience less and less each year, but will always enjoy. I have the past, but others may not. It’s a potential extinction of experiences.
Wonder doesn’t just have to be a state of play — it can also inspire great work. Gaming industry creative, Aaron LeMay, utilizes wonder as a technique to unleash fresh thought and creativity by challenging himself and his team to step outside, be more present, and less judgemental in relation to the behaviors of people, ads, and products. “I like to unplug and say, ‘Hmm, I wonder what is going on in that person’s day to have them do that?’ said Aaron.
That means a business trip is an opportunity for a fresh view of new worlds that may inspire better, stronger work. By being present, and not using devices to connect ourselves to our everyday home life, we can instead use our sense of wonder to connect to new people and places. What may come of it could change not only your work, but the world itself, as Martin Lindstrom references in his study of Small Data, Disney revolutionized its parks by simply observing how people wait in line at a church in Rome.
As more information and innovation become commonplace, and the more we absolutely know and can easily achieve, uncover, and possess, the less we experience, the less we wonder. So, never forget your device-free youth, and your sense of imagination. Never forget the power of child-like perspective. Never forget what it’s like to make up your own stories. Embrace your curiosity and imagination, and rediscover the ever-changing world around you. We are the last to experience so much discovery, the last to wholeheartedly wonder.
We are the Wonderful Generation, a fortunate flicker in existence with the ability to experience two great ages in human history, so don’t let those last remnants of a forgotten analog past disappear without letting them influence your eager view of the future. Unplug whenever possible, wander, wonder, and maybe listen to some birds. Let it inspire you and your work, every wonderful day.
Note: Special thanks to photographer Niki Boon whose work inspired this article, and who graciously allowed me to use her photographs to bring it to life. Find more of Niki’s incredible work here.