When the hunt becomes too easy

I am not incredibly nostalgic for the turn of the century, but there is one thing I miss about it.

Sure, the late 90s and early 2000s weren’t perfect — we saw the rise of domestic terrorism , the so-called Republican revolution that served as fertilizer on the seeds of the political discourse we have today, and 9/11, which reshaped the world in all sorts of ways, including but not limited to serving as the justification for two decades-long wars.

But overall, if you look back, it was a simpler time, right?

A lot of folks my age are inclined to think so. If you look at surveys, the age cohort known as elder millennials is more likely than any other group to long for a time when life was simpler and technology was less prevalent in their lives.

Their intended definition for “technology,” of course, is not more efficient electrical grids, cars with greater mile-per-gallon gasoline usage, or toilets that flush more powerfully while using less water. All of those are examples of technological advances that have happened in our lifetimes but that operate in the background, largely unnoticed once the novelty of their installation wears off – if it is noticed at all.

What they mean, on the whole, is that they long for a time when we were less connected, less surveilled, and less addicted to the worldwide information network that collects our data and compels so many to constantly connect. We used to call it the Web, and just like if a spider had weaved it, people feel caught and fear being consumed. The deep anxiety of post-post-postmodernity is that lives will be spent lived in connection to a network and yet still will be wasted in digital alienation, an entire existence reduced to its good for advertising commodification through outrage bait, impulse clicks and doomscrolling.

That’s why the phrase “Go outside and touch grass” arose. With the constant attraction of connection to the entire world at their fingertips, people are starting to realize that they are connecting to nothing so much of the time. They are tiring of a reality that does not feel real.

I don’t wear nostalgia-tinted lenses in my corrective glasses. I groan when I see people share social media posts with phrases like, “we were the last generation to…” Such visions are too romantic and too revisionist. The past was its own world, and that world has passed away.

The thing I miss from those days is something that actually has its origins in our primitive DNA, the thing that kept our ancestors up at night and motivated them to get into the wilderness in the morning — the hunt.

For us, the hunt was not for food or fur. For us, the hunt was all about pursuing an interest that was not easily accessible.

Now that information is readily available, it is easy to quickly obsess about a topic, dive deeply into it for a few weeks and then forget it once you become oversaturated with information.

I miss the thrill of looking for some small morsel about a given topic, of piling reference books high, of waiting weeks for a key book or letter or delivery. I miss the possibility of accidentally learning something else as I dug through sources along the way.

When early adopters started adding home Internet services to their personal computer setup, searching for what they wanted to know came with no assurance that they would find it. The top five hits on one’s search engine of choice were no guarantee. Sometimes you had to get into the weeds. Sometimes you found something unexpected and better. Sometimes you found something weird.

The hunt is fading away now as it becomes easier to simply ask an AI to provide the top 50 best sources on a topic. Interest piqued by something mentioned in a television show can be slaked within seconds, no need to go to the library or send off for a catalog listed in the classifieds of a hobbyist magazine.

I think I knew when the hunt had come to an end. It was when I was looking for an out-of-print book, one I’d read as a teenager. I could almost remember the author’s name, but not quite. Finally, in exasperation, I did an Internet search for “the book where God is a popsicle”. The correct result was the first hit. I was happy to find the correct book. But when it came correct, my search — which over the years had helped me find different books that I also enjoyed — was over.

I’ve been wondering lately if the loss of the hunt is why fewer people seem to have hobbies, at least the kind that aren’t also monetized. By having easy access to everything one wants to know and the ability to get all of the supplies right away, there’s less opportunity to explore the width of the terrain or to take a turn down the wrong canyon. You can do whatever you are searching to do, do it with intensity, and then be done. Why retain an interest when you can turn your face to the constant bombardment of something new?

I like learning. I like being able to pick up new skills and information.

But sometimes I wish it required just a little more work.

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