There’s a sign plate somewhere up on the rim of the Grand Canyon that says, “One minute don’t read, don’t talk, no photos, just look…and see”. The first time I saw it I was immediately stunned by the wisdom those few words contained. That led me to wonder if, on the road of discovery, is the process of cognition was really so important? Could we possibly learn more by simply observing and enjoying? Can the pleasure of not knowing overcome the pleasure of acquiring knowledge?
Living in the era of perpetual exposure to information, drawn into the web of the omnipresent and the almighty internet, the only willful choice one can make is to stay blissfully ignorant. Knowledge interferes even in one of the most emotional, right brain activities – that of traveling. It’s alienated us from what we see and how we feel with the wall of compulsory information.
Today traveling to Italy we already know the history of the Colosseum; coming to Florence we rush to get a selfie with David; and Russia is defined by only one square, that every foreigner snaps photos of. Traveling to a new place, we already know everything, from its geographical position to its political situation and everything that is considered “must-see”. And while many will argue, advocating that all those apps starting from google maps to pocket translator will make you feel at home wherever you are, I still maintain that technology defeats the purpose that we travel for. That is – to get lost.
Ultimately, our final purpose of discovery is to feel lost in a new culture, new language, and new traditions. Caught in the never-ending cycle of self-adoration fed by our cultivated knowledge, what our inner self longs for is going back and becoming a thoughtful child, inventing a new world from scratch, from a blank piece of paper. Indeed, ignorance as an ingredient of dreaming has become a new luxury. It’s that blissful ignorance that promises us a trip to Venice, and of getting lost in its intricate streets to have a chance encounter with an elderly woman with a cat, and then being invited for a coffee. This naivety or ignorance is that primitive desire to liberate oneself from one’s past and history and all the things learned in the process. All that can be achieved by simply pointing a finger anywhere on the world map and buying a ticket. The rest will follow. As Italo Calvino wisely observed once:
“You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.”