I was in Istanbul, standing at the foot of the Hagia Sophia. It was so much bigger than it looked in pictures, and it dripped with generations of culture that had passed through it.
It was humbling. Jaw-dropping, and I stood there silent…
… and then a selfie stick caught me in the throat.
As fate would have it, my first time in that city coincided with the moment selfie sticks caught on.
They weren’t just everywhere. It felt like they were on me. Around me. Coming for me. Maybe even conspiring against me. It was like an 8-bit video game, and I was left to hurdle even more before arriving at the Blue Mosque.
Most of them missed, thank God. And I survived, but I’ve thought a lot about “self” since then.
We live in the era of self. Self-care, self-actualization, self-funded, self-driving, and those fucking sticks I couldn’t get away from.
Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like the more we focus on self, the more divided we get.
Perhaps it’s time to turn our cellphone cameras around, look out, way out, and focus on the world again.
40 years ago, we did just that. We launched two spacecraft that are farther from Earth than anything we’ve ever sent. On board are two gold-plated records as a message from us, drifting endlessly towards whoever or whatever might find them. They carry greetings, music, sounds and images. They represent people, creativity and technology — a best-of this planet mixtape drifting onwards.
And they ask for nothing in return.
That’s right. Two probes, funded by American taxpayers, carry two gold-plated 12-inch records curated by a rag tag team of geniuses led by Carl Sagan. If and when received, earth will be no more. We’ll receive no money, fame, likes or retweets.
That’s what makes it so human.
It’s a selfless act of cultural diplomacy. A global statement of hope, determination, and goodwill. It’s our legacy, and it suggests that exploration without results might just be okay.
That belief, in exploration as a leap of faith, is pretty unique. No species we’ve ever encountered would do something so hopeful. And that feels like it’s worth reinforcing this year.
I, for one, could use a hit of the-good-of-humankind right now. 2017’s aching for it.
So WeTransfer came together with over 40 artists, musicians, photographers, writers, comedians, and more to create a tribute to the Golden Record in its 40th year.
We call it amessagefrom.earth, and it launched yesterday as an online exhibition that’s meant as a gift. The Golden Record shows what we can deliver when we come together to make and share something bigger than any one person. So just like the original, we don’t really want anything in return.
Maybe the original will inspire something on a far-off planet someday. Maybe this crazy exhibition will inspire something in you.
Take your time looking through it, and take something from the work that’s here. We made it with our friends in the hope we might spark something new for you — a piece of art, an optimistic day, or even a selfless act of cultural diplomacy wherever you call home.
Whatever form that inspiration takes, we’d all do well to focus on that glint of gold Carl and team sent out in ’77.
They sought to tell a story about the best of humankind. For just a few short minutes, let’s put the selfie sticks away and live up to the legacy.
If this does inspire a selfless act of your own, consider a donation to Astronomers without Borders, the Carl Sagan Institute, or SETI — three amazing organizations we’ve gotten to know through this project that are intent on keeping us all exploring.
WeTransfer will offer up a free zine for anyone who donates over $15 here
Illustrations by the brilliant and talented Sophy Hollington