About Marco Polo, innovation from China and the passion to write

Marco Polo was a great traveler. He was born in 1254 and died in 1324, thus became 70 years old and spent 24 of those years with traveling. At an age of 17 he accompanied his father Niccolò and his uncle Maffeo for their second trip to China to the court of Kublai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan. Kublai Khan seemed to like him, thus Marco decided to stay there for a while and actually started again to travel for Kublai Khan now on diplomatic missions and to explore his kingdom. A passionate globetrotter, I must say.

I was watching a TV-movie about his trip recently with Ian Somerhalder starring as Marco Polo. Images below are taken from that movie.

As they entered China they had been astonished and surprised by all the innovative things they discovered there and had not seen before:

gunpowder and fireworks a compass charcoal ice cream paper money

In these times the world had not been explored entirely yet, thus it was possible to reveal innovation by simply bumping into new cultures isolated from the rest of the world.
Nowadays we won’t have that luxury anymore to reveal innovative things like this by simply traveling around, since there might not be any undiscovered civilization anymore on this planet. In order to obtain some breakthru innovation like Marco Polo did we would have to travel to extraterrestrial places which itself would require some huge amount of innovation to overcome todays limitations of physics preventing us to get there where other intelligent life might exist. Or of course they might show up on our planet some time and bring us some breakthru technology – or the end of our civilization.
Thus the easy way to obtain innovation could be also the most risky one. Traveling a distance like Marco Polo and his friends did through many unknown countries actually has been a risky endeavor as well in these times.

Marco Polo also was a passionate writer. What a pitty that blogging had not been invented yet. There is a scene in that movie where they rest in the desert and Marco is taking notes into his diary.

His father: “What is this ?”
Marco Polo: “My diary. I document our experiences and our route to China.”
His father: “We are trader. Would be better if you spent your time on arithmetics.”

His uncle Maffeo (angered, trying to take the diary away from Marco) : “And what if someone else finds this and uses our route and will become rich instead of us ? How would you like that ? Knowledge is power, and power leads to prosperity. That’s why we are here, Marco, so that the family Polo controls the gate to the plentifulness of China.”
His father: “Books belong to the most dangerous things in the world, Marco.”
His father asks him to hand the book to him, but Marco refuses to do so and leaves.
His uncle shouting: “Who ever would actually ever read this writing ? Those who find your bones ?”

Somehow this reminded me of the discussion about blogging ( simply replace “book” or “diary” with “blog” in the dialog above ): What is this good for ? Shouldn’t we spend our time on something more important ? And: isn’t it dangerous to actually reveal your own knowledge ? And if not: who would read that anyway ?

I wonder how many people have traveled this route to China before, discovering all these amazing things without letting the rest of the world know about ? Marco Polo might not have been the first one, but he was probably the first one who was passionate about writing things down and sharing them with the rest of the world.


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