Friday, March 22, 2013


The Titanic was a very big ship.  Its builders can be forgiven if they thought it was unsinkable.  Four huge smoke stacks reached toward the sky from its roaring furnaces.  Rows of lifeboats lined the decks.  There weren’t enough boats for all the passengers and crew, but who was counting?
The ship employed the best technology of the day.  There were still sailing vessels crossing the ocean.  Some steam powered ships still had paddle wheels.  Titanic looked like a modern ship.  
The shear size of this big boat was reassuring.  It was the biggest ship in the harbor. However it was not the biggest thing in the ocean.  There was an iceberg that was bigger.
Providing enough lifeboats for all the people who might have to use them is only common sense.  They didn’t have nearly enough.   Controlling an orderly loading of the boats was essential.  They launched some half-empty.  They had no plan for an emergency.  Keeping a watch for icebergs, a known hazard in the north Atlantic, was an elementary precaution.  They didn’t bother.
They felt that their state-of-the-art ocean liner was in no danger.  They were wrong.
This was not a failure of technology.  It was a human failure.
As the ships got bigger the cabins grew smaller.  The newest cruise ships can pack in four or five thousand paying customers.  They can drag the population of a small town from one tropical island to the next.
If the power goes off any problem is a big problem. The elevators won’t work, the food can’t be cooked and the toilets are unusable.  The ship can’t move and it can’t stay where it is.  It must be towed, and ships being towed move slowly.  Thousands of angry travelers put their lawyers on speed dial and vow never to set foot on a cruise ship again.
The sinking of Titanic was not a failure of technology.  It was a human failure.  So are the contemporary failures.  Technology won’t solve every problem or meet every need.  What it will do is quite enough.


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