Interview with Alison RigbyCollaborative research
Today I had the opportunity to Skype with Alison Rigby from Mars One top 100 candidates. The conversation made me realize that moving to another planet is much more relatable to how social groups are formed.
She asked me why I had not applied in 2013 and when I thought about it, it came down to bravery. I did not have the courage of making such a big change in my life, I guess this is why I’m intrigued by the people who’ve made the Mars One leap. Alison said, “you tend to make home where you land” and that is so relative to how I feel about the move to the UK and how lonely I feel even in a city full of people.
When Alison applied for the program, her life was pretty settled in London but saw it as an opportunity. Life has changed a lot since, especially becoming popular in the media. The media attention raised as each selection process happened. Most people think these applicants are escaping from Earth. But what I found is quite the contrary. Alison and others in the program feel more that it is a choice to aid humanity for their love of people.
“You have to have a good reason to go, and to do it for humanity is a really good motivator towards a step into the future” Alison says.
Alison’s parents, like many others are not fond of the idea mainly because of the fact that they will lose her presence on earth. But like many other decisions we make in life, our loved ones learn to understand.
The most intriguing part about this journey to Alison is being able to build a world differently from Earth. When asked about building this new colony, Alison said,
“As the number of people increases, eventually it starts becoming a colony, people start having children, and eventually it becomes a society. And it’s really hard to find out when that exactly is, when it switches from a bunch of people, maybe a bunch of scientists on a research mission, and when it becomes a colony.”
Michel Maffesoli in his book, The Time of the Tribes, describes a neotribe as people moving away from mass society and into smaller, more concentrated little masses. He calls it Le Temps des Tribes, meaning a time when the mass is tribalized. In the Foreward to his book, a similar description to what Alison mentioned above is written:
“Between the time one might leave one’s family or intimates in the morning and the time when one returns each person enters into a series of group situations each of which has some degree of self-consciousness.”
“Unlike anthropological tribes, our contemporary social life is marked by membership of overlapping groups in which the roles one plays become sources of identity which, like masks, provide temporary identifications.”
The only difference with the Mars One tribe is that it will be isolated from other social groups by geography. In a way, this makes it an extreme neotribe. But one that will grow and change and form into smaller masses.
I asked Alison, do you feel like you are part of a tribe of Mars One?
“We have obviously a shared interest but we are all very different. Sometimes we have arguments, it’s a good cross section of humanity” Alison says. This notion of a cross section of humanity is what creates tribes of individuals with different roles.
To select the final candidates for the first few journeys, Mars One has a criteria of what 4 ppl would work well together. Ultimately it’s up to the public who will be watching the process on a TV documentary series. 4-8 teams of 4 will be training together and becoming a family. But in reflection, Alison is glad that both scientific, logical people and emotional artists are represented. Candidates are encouraged to find their own groups which will be rearranged as the number of people lessens. This is much like how our social groups are chosen now, people gravitating towards certain others but constrained by circumstantial conditions.
Some social activities and habits will have to change being on Mars but that’s why adaptability will be an important personality for finalists. It’s not just adaptability to different conditions either, it’s being able to get along with others.
This made me think of another interesting point about how humans socially interact. Before the digital age, humans interacted a lot more gesturally and personally. Now, we barely spend many hours with anyone even if it is human nature to belong and identify with others-alike. Going to another planet means spending more time with another human and to essentially return to the natural way of human interaction.
Alison expects that the 4 people will know each other intimately and the boundaries will become invisible as a result. The barrier that’s becoming evermore evident in large congested cities like London, causes the feeling of isolation.
When spoken of diversity, Alison is open to the challenge of meeting radically different people, “People from different parts of the world, will conceptualize differently. They will have a better understanding of a subject than somebody else.”
The time spent preparing and traveling to Mars is only a small part of this experience as explained by Alison. “When we land, it’s the rest of our lives. The journey is a small slice of a much bigger experience.” I find that this is a similar thought I had when I moved to a new country.
At the end, I asked Alison whether it would be a good idea to go to Mars with the intention of recreating utopia. She said,
“When it comes to the politics and the society of Mars, I tend to see it like the founding fathers of America. They came with an idea and said, this is the core of what we want to build here, and then let people add to that in succeeding generations. So as long as we get the core right, I think what we build will be better.“
Alison used the metaphor of a relay race. From one generation to the next, no single person can dictate how a society, tribe, or community will operate. But if the goals of the people in the tribe are agreed upon, then this common interest would be the constitution of that tribe.
From this interview, I’ve gotten to know Alison from Mars One and the vision that she has for this journey.