September 4, 2016

The beauty of simplicity

IT OCCURS TO ME that we’d be better off if typewriters hadn’t been replaced by computers. I mean, it’s thanks to computers that government departments are getting hacked. Airline computer systems are falling down dead. Banks, whose greatest responsibility is keeping your money safe, are putting you at risk because their defenses against hackers simply aren’t good enough.

What we need is fewer computers and more typewriters. I mention this because most of my readers are sailors, and you will appreciate that sailboats are the typewriters of modern transportation systems.

Sailboats, like typewriters, don’t need silicon chips and intricate circuits to  make them work. They don’t need gasoline or steam. They don’t even need electricity. You can circumnavigate the Earth under sail alone. It has been done many times. Some sailboats have auxiliary engines, to be sure, but you don’t actually need an engine to cross an ocean.

It’s a fallacy of modern thinking that computers are needed to run airlines. I can remember the days before computers, when airline offices (and all major businesses) had typists’ pools instead of keyboards and monitors. Typists had nice legs clad in silk stockings in those days, which made it a particular pleasure to take your notes into the typists’ pool to be typed up.

Those old airlines ran just fine without computers. They never came to a standstill because the stupid computers had broken down. And when you think of all the Allied bombers that made combined runs over Europe in World War II, hundreds and hundreds of them wing-tip to wing-tip, and all organized by typewriters and typists with pretty legs, you have to wonder about the alleged advantages of computers.

And just imagine if the Allied landings in France on D-Day had been scheduled on a computer whose hard-drive had crashed at D minus two hours, because one of Herr Hitler’s hackers had penetrated the firewall.

I like simple boats and simple systems. And there’s very little that’s simpler and purer than a nicely designed sailboat. All it needs is a rudder, a keel, a mast, a couple of sails, and some sort of shelter to sleep and cook in, and you’re in business. And if anything goes wrong, you can fix it yourself. That’s one of the most marvelous things about sailboats. Just like typewriters. You can spill a whole cup of coffee over a typewriter and it will still work. You can dig the gunk out of the keys with a paper clip and it will perform like new. The greatest technological challenge in keeping a typewriter working is changing the ribbon, just as the greatest challenge in a keeping a sailboat working is finding money for the marina fees.

Airlines and banks who really care about their customers, rather than their own bottom lines, would do well to study the simplicity, efficiency, and reliability of sailboats and typewriters. But that won’t happen, of course, because no matter what they say, money is more important to them than people.

Today’s Thought
Blissful are the simple, for they shall have much peace.
— Thomas à Kempis, De Imitatione Christi.

A friend of mine is set to make a fortune. He’s working on a dog food that tastes like a mailman’s leg.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for another Mainly about Boats column.)

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