The 21st Century Hunter Gatherer

My knowledge of human evolution is fairly minimal, but I am aware that early incarnations of our species were hunter gatherers, essentially hunting and killing animals, as well as foraging for plant life and gathering it for immediate or future sustenance.

Of course in the western world we don’t this today, but I’ve been wondering if some of this ancient instinct still smoulders strongly in our genetic make up.

Personally, I’ve noticed over the years a strong urge to hunt and gather. Not for food, but for a few other things, which I’ve narrowed down to two areas.

1. Objects.

An obvious example is cameras. Whilst I no longer have 50+ cameras, I went through hundreds over a five year period to get to the few I love most now.

What am I really hunting for?

Perhaps at one time it was the “perfect” camera. The one beautiful machine that I became so at one with that it would finally end the search for anything other camera for the rest of my life.

Then I realised there is no one perfect camera, but there are a handful that come very close indeed. Close enough to not really need to search for perfection any more.

So then the hunt evolved. Into searching for cameras that give me a slightly different experience, and a view of the world via their lens, sensor and digital brain that I’ve not seen before. A bit like meeting different people and learning about their unique view of the world.

In the past, other objects I’ve hunted for have been Ladybird books (the Well Loved Tales) as well as the “How It Works” series), Star Wars figures (the original ones from 1977 to around 1985 – I loved how the whole set of figures was shown on the back of each pack), and CDs (for perhaps a decade of my life from about 18 onwards I felt more defined by my music collection than anything else).

With all of these objects, of course they weren’t just objects, they gave me a connected experience, providing a gateway to a different world that seemed perhaps more exciting, interesting, beautiful, or fun than the one we live in day to day.

Connected to all of these too was a thirst for research. Or, put another way, they encouraged a quest for knowledge.

Which brings us to the second category I feel my hunter gather has manifested via.


2. Knowledge.

Generally I think I’m quite a curious person, and I really like to have some kind of research topic to get my teeth into.

Again let’s start with cameras as a personal example. I love to dive into the mighty river of the history of cameras and follow it down through minor tributaries.

For example Pentax K mount film cameras (I’ve owned perhaps 15 different models) or 4MP digital cameras (see my 4MP experiments a few months back).

What am I really hunting for?

It could be a number of things. I think more knowledge (about anything, however obscure the topic) helps us feel we’re learning and evolving, that we’re not static, stagnating.

By narrowing down research to a single channel at a time (like a Mastermind contestant with their chosen specialist subject, say those Pentax 35mm film cameras from 1975 to 1985, or digital compact cameras from 2003-2008) it just makes the world far easier to comprehend, and to manage.

Imagining trying to search eBay for “camera”. When I try this today I get 277,000 results in the UK alone. How do we possibly process and begin to organise this many objects?

We can’t!

So narrowing down again and again to a subset helps us to make this research – this quest for objects and the related knowledge – feasible, and appealing, as opposed to utterly daunting.

Knowledge gives a certain confidence too I think. If we feel we know about something in a little more depth, again it helps to deal with the vast enormity of the world and everything in it.

We find our specialist little nooks (or, in a day job perhaps, we’re given them) and get comfortable. Then we naturally seek out others who have similar looking nooks – hence the appeal for many of us here of having a blog on a certain topic and trying to encourage engagement and build community around it.

Whilst most of us no longer need to hunt and gather food in the wilderness for our daily survival, I believe our primal hunter gatherer spirit manifest in other ways.

We hunt for objects, that give us experiences we enjoy. And we hunt for knowledge, which we learn from and which gives us comfort and confidence.

How about you? In what ways are you a 21st century hunter gatherer, and what do you like to hunt for and gather?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what I’m into right now.

30 thoughts on “The 21st Century Hunter Gatherer”

  1. Dan, I love hunting and gathering on the internet and love it when it opens up new directions and new interests. I like finding new objects to have in my home. I also give away objects that are no longer of interest and I delete blogs and emails that no longer fit what I am doing

    1. The internet is amazing in that it gives us so much access to learning and discovery. And I think we take for granted sites like Google which find us something we like within seconds, wherever and whenever we wish.

      On the last point about deleting blogs and emails that don’t fit, I think this is very important to not feel constantly overwhelmed, and something I do too.

      I was at a local amateur dramatic show the other night and could easily the see the person in front of me on their phone before the show began. They were in their email inbox, and in about one minute must have gone through 50 emails – mostly marketing/shopping types – and delete 95% of them with a single swipe.

      I couldn’t understand why if they weren’t interested in any of these emails, why not just unsubscribe and save yourself 50 swipes a day in deleting them??

      1. Dan,
        with my emails sometimes a message or collection of messages is spam and has no way of unsubscribing. Other spam is set up that by unsubscribing you validate your email address and even more spam is then sent!!!

      2. Yes I think it’s best just to tell your email app that a message is spam, so it learns, and blocks any future attempts by the same source. Don’t click through on any of them, as then they know you’ve read it and send more, as you’ve found out!

        I use GMail which I have to say is incredibly efficient. I can’t actually recall when I last had a spam email get through to my inbox, so I would highly recommend it.

      3. Dan, I must call the technical Mac help as don’t know how to work with spam and my general email account. I have a gmail account for my personal emails and important business emails whereas your emails get sent to my general account of a lesser priority

      4. Ha ha I won’t take being a “lesser priority” the wrong way! I still have a Mac account as that’s what I signed up to Apple with years ago and you can’t seem to change it. I do have emails redirected to Gmail though.

  2. This one made me chuckle because I actually do some real hunting and gathering, pulling a fair amount of fish and shellfish out of the tidal inlet two blocks from my house and haunting the nearby farmers markets for local produce. My latest find was a pint of honey from an apiary just half a mile down the road.

    The closest parallel to this activity in other parts of my life is my little collection of screw-mount Leica gear. It is financed entirely by selling other photo gear I have bought over the years. My long term goal is to eventually sell all the non-Leica stuff, except one digital camera body I use to digitize my negatives, put all of the proceeds into Leica bits and pieces, and completely stop buying any more photo equipment, just as I did with musical instruments.

    1. So you’re a natural hunter gatherer Doug! This reminds me of someone I work with, who used to live in a fairly rural area which could only be accessed by long narrow country lanes. Then would often found fresh roadkill and take it home while it was still warm (mostly pheasants, but I think a deer at least once too).

      With the cameras, what do you mean by “Leica bits and pieces”, what else do you need?

      1. I don’t actually need anything for the Leicas. I’d like to have a longer lens than 65mm for the Visoflex to take pictures at our granddaughter’s soccer matches. I have a nice 135/3.5 Canon but I’d rather use the Viso because it’s faster to focus. And I’d like a smaller and lighter lens in the 85-90mm range than my 85/1.9 Canon. The Canon is superb optically but it weighs as much as the camera body. And a lens or two shorter than 35mm might be fun too. The lenses are fairly affordable (by Leica standards). The viewfinders cost a mint.

      2. Oh, you mean you need a different viewfinder for every lens that’s a different focal length? I thought one viewfinder would have different frame lines within it?

      3. The only screw-mount Leica camera with projected field lines in the viewfinder is the very last one, the IIIg introduced in 1957. It has lines for 50mm and 90mm. All of the older Leicas had just a window showing the 50mm field of view, if they had any viewfinder at all. There were several variable focal length accessory view finders in the screw-mount era, like the VIDOM and the newer VIOOH. Both have a simple window showing the 35mm field of view and moveable masks that reduce the size of the window to indicate the field of view for lenses up to 135mm. Two issues with these viewfinders is that they don’t cover anything shorter than 35mm and the windows for the longer lenses like 125mm or 135mm are very tiny. Hence the popularity of single-focal length finders with many users.

        The bayonet-mount M Leicas, starting with the M3 in 1953, have multiple selectable frame lines for a variety of focal length. All of my Leicas are screw-mount.

      4. Ah Doug I think I was thinking about M Leicas then, I remember reading that Leica viewfinders typically have three sets of lines for wide, normal and tele lenses.

        I would really struggle without an accurate viewfinder (or screen, with digital cams), as I like to frame accurately in camera and use the final image without needing to crop.

      5. Indeed, the M Leicas have at least three sets of lines but even those only approximate the actual field of view. It’s something rangefinder camera users get used to.

        When I know I am going to want to frame accurately I use my Nikon F or my wife’s F6 or I use the Visoflex on one of my screw mount Leicas.

      6. I understand with cameras like those why people crop afterwards to get the photo they want. With a screen in a digital camera or a 100% (or close) viewfinder in a (D)SLR there’s no excuse, you can get the framing of the composition right before you decide to fire the shutter.

  3. I have been a collector all of my life. However, I have never been able to complete a collection. Sometimes it was money–never enough to fulfil the ambition. Sometimes the idea just ran out of steam.
    These days with the internet, collecting has become easier–and perhaps a little less fun.
    My newest collection is stamps. I am collecting a year of stamps from all around the world. All told the collection will run to about 7000 stamps if I get it finished.

      1. I have no idea what drives the collection obsession….no idea at all.
        As for stamps, I blame the author Block. His anti hero Keller is a stamp collecting assassin. He gave me the idea for stamps. As for choosing one year–well that way you can collect the whole world. If you choose the right year you can limit the number of stamps you need. I chose 1970. If you choose a year in the 60’s there are fewer stamps. The sixties and seventies don’t cost too much (like if you chose 1939) and there are probably lots available.
        If you choose a later year, the number of stamps increases dramatically.

      2. So how does it work, you collect one stamp from every country made in 1970? What if there are no examples left in existence? And how does this stretch to 7000 when there are only about 200 countries?

  4. Sorry, I probably didn’t make this clear.
    In 1970 there were 217 countries which issued stamps. I am going to collect all of those stamps. A country like Fujairah issued more than 225, whereas the Canal Zone issued one.
    The total is about 7,500–but this includes group sets as well as singles as well as some revenue stamps.
    All of the stamps exist–many in mint condition. There are some expensive ones and some not-so expensive ones.

    1. Thanks for explaining Anthony, it always amazes me how many niche collections there are in the world. It amazes me further still that stamps made in 1970 have been preserved, nearly 50 years later, and not just one or two odd ones, but at least one of every single stamp issued all over the world!

      1. I should have also mentioned that in addition to my regular (meaning more frequently updated) blog, I am writing a stamp collecting blog which details the experience. It is called “A Boy and His Stamps.”

  5. So what do you have to say about people like me who has absolutely no inclination to collect. However I an definitely a gatherer and love to garden, watch the plants grow to fruition and yes–collect the benefits of my labor. Do you see the definition of collector and gatherer as different primal instincts, by gender roles?

    1. Thanks for your interesting comments Sondra. I didn’t think about this by gender – I rarely do about things as I know I have quite a strong leaning towards my more feminine traits, and am not what might be called a “typical” male. So I don’t really get into gender specific discussions – my viewpoint is already blurred.

      I think many collect things, and many others collect experiences. And some combine the two, for example a piece of jewellery or sculpture from a place they went that meant a great deal to them.

      I get why people enjoy collections, in that it gives them a kind of focused portal to see the world through, to give it order and make it manageable. Because if you try to collect (or indeed experience) too much, it can be utterly overwhelming. In my experience.

      Oh I love gardening too, it’s kind of on hiatus currently until the children are older and we actually have some time and space to get back into it. I’m looking forward to rebuilding raised beds and growing our own fruit and vegetables again.

      1. Dan, It is so nice to see your reply in my inbox as I am part of this thread. I always love reading your comments. I learn so much. I am a collector and indeed see a lot of the world through them and the journey. Please don’t put off gardening with the kids now. Even one or two plants can give much joy and learning. Do it small. Sending lots of love as always and fond memories from Susan in Australia

      2. Thanks Susan, great to hear from you. Do you still follow the blog? We do a fair bit with the kids and nature, we’re blessed to live in a fairly rural location with woods and fields behind us, so we walk most days. Maybe this summer we’ll expand the gardening, we did grow tomatoes last year and the oldest two expressed an interest in growing more in a small greenhouse.

      3. Dan, I stopped following your blog as I wasn’t so interested in the equipment of photography which you enjoy. I just take photos with my iPhone now and enjoy them on my phone and laptop. How many children do you have now. How old are each of them. I only remember you with two. You make a wonderful father. Glad to see you are indeed doing gardening with the kids and sharing nature with them among many other things. Lots of love from SUsan

      4. Thanks Susan. We have three kids now (and no plans for any more!) and they’re 12, nearly 8, and 20 months. During the lockdown(s) we’ve walked almost daily in local woods and fields for everyone’s health and sanity. We must have covered hundreds of miles in the last 11 months!

      5. Thanks you Susan. They grow so fast… Our youngest, Albie, is at a delightful age, just old enough to communicate and play and be very mobile, he’s a joy.

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