A Pale Blue Dot

In 1990 an image of the earth was taken from 6.4 billion kilometers away. It appears as a tiny point of light no bigger than 0.12 pixels. Can you spot it in the photo?

Carl Sagan wrote then, inspired by this photo:

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

Sagan offers, among many things, a way of viewing the planet as a living organism. With this analogy in mind, what are humans? They can be perceived as a kind of bacteria or mold growing on the earth and consuming it’s resources until they are gone. Looking at LA from the window of an airplane, the comedian Joe Rogan commented that it looks like mold growing on a sandwich. 

At Glen Brook we spend much of our time engaging with the question of our place in the living organism that is planet earth. What is our responsibility towards the future of the planet and its inhabitants? Is it solely accountability towards future generations or is the earth itself an agent we are indebted to?

At this time of international crisis, COVID-19 is exposing our weaknesses and strengths. It is hitting the hardest in places where we have gathered by the millions. These same places which are also well suited for isolation in a way that has never been more possible. We have the infrastructure to deliver everything directly to people’s doors. We are adept at communicating remotely via technology, working at our screens for extended periods of time and laboring at tasks that are somewhat disconnected from the physical world.

Only a few weeks ago, Mark Stehlik, our summer camp director wrote the following in reference to his vision for camp:

“We need to be nimble enough to adapt to sweeping societal changes and continue to teach families the importance of separation from ever-more-prevalent technologies.”

A few things are becoming more apparent at this time of fear for our health and economy. 

  • We are still willing to set aside capitalism in order to take care of each other.
  • Connectivity through technology may be the game changer both for helping us stop the virus from spreading and keeping our schools and businesses running remotely.
  • Social Isolation is a problem that many people are facing regularly.
  • There is no substitute for the company of live human beings.

As I think about our coming Gap at Glen Brook semester in the fall it is clear to me how needed places like ours are. We are living at a time when working remotely, engaging with friends and family digitally and having EVERYTHING delivered within the day is often the norm for young people. What feels to me like a quarantine may be perfectly comfortable for a 19 year old. This is a dangerous normal to be steeped in.

Every day at Glen Brook we see what happens to kids, teens and adults when they are truly together without screens, without beeping or swiping, without a social distancing mechanism, pun intended. To cry, laugh, scream, play, whisper, get hurt and connect deeply in the moment with others. We are currently in the midst of offering whatever content and assistance we can to participants in the form of online classes, games and activities but it cannot compare to the simple humanity of serving a home cooked meal, digging a ditch, holding hands, dancing or sharing ideas around a table.

So while you are home with your loved ones, the ones you have tied your fate to in the best of ways, consider things you can do together without technology. As tempting as it may be.