Coffee, Cats & The Pale Blue Dot. (Personal Essay, Technology & Culture)

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.
– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

As the years roll by, I wake up earlier each morning. I used to think that it’s a kind of instinctual strand of DNA kicking in, harkening back to an ancient Irish ancestor somewhere, hard wired to rise at the crack of dawn and milk the cows before tending windswept fields of sugar beets or wheat or whatever. Then again, it could also be Captain Cheezburger.

Captain Cheezburger is a cat that likes to announce when she feels the time is right for her meals. She is a cat that knows what she wants. And it’s usually far too early in the morning. My irritation soon passes as my early rise affords me the opportunity to take my time making coffee in the french press tradition. My wife, on the other hand, prefers the new gadget thingy that makes coffee out of tiny individual capsules, but you need a masters degree in physics to operate the machinery. I do coffee the old school way. After it’s been carefully perculating for some time, I walk up to the office every morning, clutching the steaming cup like a patient clutches an IV drip, dependent on it’s life giving properties.


When I was around eleven or twelve years old, during my horrid pre-caffeine days, I started reading the daily newspaper in the mornings. We used to get the Globe & Mail delivered to our door. My father and I would read the paper together. Back then, it was my first glimpse into world affairs. And what a world it was!

The front section was a testament to everything wrong with our species. Airplane bombings, hijackings, crooked politicians, vegetarianism; the world seemed like a terrifying place indeed. I soon gravitated towards the Comics section, followed by the Arts & Entertainment segment, where I could focus on more easily palatable portions of information, like music and film. Little did I know then, that I would eventually devote my life to those very things. I still like reading the paper, but it’s now generally over a pint or two at my local drinking establishment. I think the only civilized way to digest world events is with an alcoholic beverage.

Nowadays I also consume world events on the home computer connected to the interwebz, like much of the rest of the planet. The difference is, instead of a newspaper being thrown at our door by some pimple faced kid, this contraption lets me seek out what information I want. What an invention. We now have all of the information in the world at our fingertips. It’s a tad overwhelming. That’s probably why most people stick to pornography or pictures of cats. The world hasn’t gotten any less scary. In fact, now there’s more high definition pictures and video to go along with the scariness.

Maybe that’s why I like to look up at the sky so much. My affliction first began in those glorious early summers of my youth spent at my cottage. There was a community pool where I spent entire days lying on beach towels with my friends, staring up at the cobalt tinged sky. Making shapes of the clouds that would drift by. It was a seemingly unending theater of possibility. Fast forward 30 years later, and I’m still there. A ten year old kid fascinated by the sky above, dreaming of a life much larger out there.

Last weekend I finally got around to checking out the new Hubble movie. The Hubble telescope is our best window we have to the greater universe. A life outside of our own planet. A life beyond social media. Beyond Kim Kardashian. The movie not only features jaw dropping visuals of the greater universe in IMAX wonder, it also offers some fascinating footage of the brave astronauts that ventured into the stars to help service the telescope. A telescope that offers us a glimpse into a world greater than the sum of us.

Ever since watching that film, I keep thinking of that pale blue dot photograph, taken by the Voyager space craft on February 14, 1990. The pale blue dot is Earth, from 6 billion kilometres away. I think about that tiny dot, and then I think of the kind of day I had. I think about all those times throughout the day I was disappointed by something. About not having enough time to do something. About all the things I wanted to do, things I regretted doing, or saying in the past. I should read more books. Lose some weight. Exercise more. Spend more time with family and friends. Start volunteering somewhere. Run a marathon. Be accomplishing more things. I worry about the past, almost as much as I fret about the future. I am human. I live in a constant state of anxiety.


“That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” – Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot.

I think of that little dot, and I think to myself, does any of it really, actually matter?

We spend our entire lives chasing stacks of coloured pieces of paper made out of trees and cotton. We spend most of our days alone, inside metal cubes powered (mainly) by fossil fuel. Our nights are spent inside ant hills. We judge people on the size of the ant hill they call home. We judge people on the shininess of tiny rocks dug far below ground, that people adorn themselves with. We judge people on the fabric they cover their bodies with.

That pale blue dot terrifies as much as it soothes. It comforts me because most of the things that pain me melt away when I realize that none of it really matters in the great scheme of things. But it also terrifies me for the very same reason.

All of us seem to be chasing things invented by ourselves to give meaning. Money, jobs, religion, possessions, giving rise for wars to wage. Every second of every day, about two of us will get our caskets topped with flowers and lowered six feet under, while four brand new babies will open their eyes for the first time to the brave new world around them.* Millions of us will fall in love for the first time at any given moment. Millions of others will get angry over something like a parking spot. We need things to inspire, to motivate, to worry us, to activate something inside us on an emotional level because, well, we need to believe that it all matters. This life, at least as we know it, is finite. Maybe that’s why it’s so important to make it count.

This pale blue dot may be infinitesimally small, but it’s all we have. At least until Elon Musk finds our way to Mars. Maybe today is the day I will finally pick up that book I’ve wanted to read. Right after this next cat photo.

You can still catch the Hubble movie this month, during it’s 25 year anniversary at the Ontario Science Center.

* Source – Population Reference Bureau & The World Factbook (Central Intelligence Agency)

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