Welcome to the New Age of (Virtual) Exploration

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Following the fall of Rome, the European continent went dark. Although the term “Dark Ages” has fallen out of favor, we have no problem referring to the nadir of that time – when the Bubonic Plague – decimated Europe’s population as “the Black Death.”

Shortly after this tragic pandemic, Europe finally emerged from its thousand-year cocoon. Today, we call this the “Renaissance,” and it is aptly named. Side-by-side with the flourishing arts and sciences was the advent of something greater, something that, without it, we would not exist.

It’s called the “Age of Exploration.”

It was a time when everything came together for Europe. It was a time we forever remember as a simple mental image of a dandily dressed mustachioed man in a shiny helmet planting his sovereign colors on the sandy shores of a (to him) distant isle.

The Crusades were long over, although their lingering effects didn’t end until the fall of Constantinople in 1453. It was this particular event, that necessitated a burst of trans-oceanic activity. The Ottoman occupation, which didn’t end until World War I, cut off the inland trade routes favored by the Europeans. Indeed, Columbus received funding for his journey because the Spanish Crown thought he could find a water route to Eastern trading ports.

Portugal began this new era of discovery in 1412, but it was Christopher Columbus’ maiden voyage to the American continents that really started the race. While the Portuguese hugged the African coast, Columbus ventured forth into terra incognita. Well, actually mare incognitum.

Sailing under the Spanish flag, Columbus’s surprise finding of what was, to Europeans, a new world, launched a war of exploration between the two Iberian competitors. Before the end of the century, the French, the English, and the Dutch joined in. These are the Europeans most relevant to our own history, both before and after the Revolutionary War. But that’s a story for another time.

In fact, this isn’t a story of the past. But for today, this past is prologue.

To understand this, let’s return to a more recent past. Specifically, to June of 1966. It was then that Robert F. Kennedy uttered these words in a speech delivered at Cape Town, Massachusetts:

“There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.”

Whether or not the curse is really of Chinese origin is unclear. Its first mention in print appears in the 1939 Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science. In that issue, Frederic R. Coudert said a friend wrote a letter to him in 1936 which said in part, “Many years ago, I learned from one of our diplomats in China that one of the principal Chinese curses heaped upon an enemy is, ‘May you live in an interesting age.’ Surely, no age has been more fraught with insecurity than our own present time.”

Hmm, sounds like mankind has experienced “interesting times” more often than it would seem over the past century.

And these past seven months have definitely earned the label “interesting times.”

While these times certainly have inspired uncertainty and the fear normally associated with the unknown, they have also opened up more opportunity since the mass access of the internet in the 1990s.

(Wait a minute. Not that anyone is counting, but 1930s, 1960s, 1990s, 2020s… I’m not saying it’s aliens but,… I’d think twice once we hit the 2050s.)

The today and now, though, blossoms like a new Age of Exploration. Except, instead of claiming some lonely island, we’re planting our flag on virtual territory. That territory has always existed, and at least a few people have always known of it, but, until these past few months, it’s been underutilized.

Today, that’s all different. Here are a few examples:

How many of you ever heard of “Zoom” before Covid struck, let alone participated in a Zoom meeting?

How many of you had ever known there was such a thing as a virtual conference or had ever attended one?

How many of you had ever taken an online class and have others recognize it as legitimate?

Several years ago, CougarTech, the HF-L robotics team, promoted an online campaign called “Claim Your Name.” Its purpose was to encourage people to claim their name on social media and other internet platforms before someone else did. Why is this important? How many of you have to add numbers after your name when you establish a new account because someone beat you to the punch. They claimed their name before you claimed your name.

The same thing is going on right now on the internet. People are transferring non-internet activities to the internet. These may be online classes, virtual conferences, or even regular meetings. And, as in all marketing efforts, the first one to the market usually wins.

The world is ever changing. As a result, all times are interesting. This means you can always discover opportunities.

But, first, you’ve got to set sail directly into those uncharted waters others fear.

That is the story of Christopher Columbus. That is the glory of Christopher Columbus.

Are you brave enough, smart enough, and confident enough to be the next Christopher Columbus?

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