Living in the future

Increasingly, we live in a world where we surround and immerse ourselves in technologies which until a few years ago would have been unthinkable – yet today we take for granted. This can create a strange bias by making us view anything that went before us as somehow less highly developed and a bit… primitive, for lack of a better word to describe it.

I was thinking about this as I was discussing the Historical Development of Tree Climbing Techniques presentation with the group here in Seattle. Every time I look at them, I find the photographs which Davey Tree, Honey Brothers and Merrist Wood College kindly allowed us to use for this presentation very moving, as they show individual people working in accordance to the best practice guidelines of that period. These people were trained and committed to doing a good job. Of course, in hindsight some of the work being performed is dated and would today no longer be performed in that fashion, yet was based upon the level of knowledge of that point in time. Without a doubt the same will be true in fifty years time of someone looking at photos of an arborist working in 2016.

In a similar vein, a couple of weeks ago I was in the South of France and whilst there went to visit the Grotte Chauvet in Vallon Pont d’Arc in Ardèche. Well, strictly speaking it was not the cave itself I visited, but rather the mirror image replica of it situated a couple of kilometers up the road from the original site. The reason for this is that in order for the site to receive the status of UNESCO world heritage site it has to be accessible to the public, and as this cave with its 36’000 year old paintings is so fragile there is no way it could have withstood a high volume of visitors without suffering severe degradation.  I thought this was a very clever solution, added to which the replica is housed in a architecturally stunning building.

I was blown away by the drawing and etchings. These date back to a period from 36 to 30’000 years before the present day. And rather than being primitive or simple, you can sense that the persons who created this artwork were highly perceptive, switched on and had a profound understanding not only of the materials they were using to create their art, but also the subjects they were depicting. Admittedly there was not a single microchip or fibre optic cable involved in creating this, yet despite the millennia separating myself and the person who drew these images, I could not help but feel deeply connected and touched.

The point I am trying to make is that maybe we should not let ourselves be blinded by the all the gadgets we surround ourselves with. We are not the pinnacle of any evolution, but rather just one step. High tech need not necessarily have to involve all sorts of modern trimmings and blinking lights, but rather is elegant solutions for complex problems. With this expanded definition of high tech it become applicable to many indigenous and traditional technologies.

To return somewhat closer to the arb world, the obvious parallel here is that we constantly strive to change and evolve the ways in which we work, which is good. But I also believe it is important not to innovate for the sake of innovation, to recognize the qualities and insights of generations of arborists whose work we are building on. After all, often as not, apparent innovations are nothing other than variations upon a theme that known and being used years before. Yet still we are all to prone to discard these older technologies as they are not hip and high-tech. I suggest that we take the time to take a closer look and try to understand before doing so.

Hey! Actually, if we really are living in the future, where the hell are my jetpack and my hoverboard?!