The Trouble With Progress


Maybe I’m just getting old.  I’m reminding myself of comments and conversations with my parents and grandparents, back in the ‘60s.  But, I see a growing phenomenon in our society that I would like to draw to your attention.  It’s called progress. And I must say that am proud to have contributed.  The technology around us is growing exponentially.  We are living in an age that’s changing so fast, that the average person cannot begin to imagine what tomorrow will bring.  An age that was only depicted in sci-fi comic books, as recently as twenty-five or thirty years ago is now upon us.  We now carry more power in our smart phones than was inside a main frame, state of the art computer that launched our space programs and put a man on the moon.  And what’s more…  These same phones are in the pockets of our young kids !   The kids take it for granted; it’s all they have ever known.

Look around the mall or any school yard.  The kids are walking around with ear buds connected to their smart phones, or similar device.  They’re face-timing and texting each other for simple entertainment today while many of us still remember listening to the “party-line” ring-pattern  to see if it was a  phone call intended for our house.  How many of us still have a phone book in the house?  Do you even know your friend’s number, or do you just select his/her name from  “Contacts”.

We have ALL become dependent on technology.  Think of how many ways you use a computer (or smart phone) in your day-to-day activities.  It has crept into our lives, and we enjoy it.  We use it to keep our appointment calendars, take family photos, it’s an encyclopedia and dictionary, and we even conduct banking, and navigate our travels.  We always have it with us, and we no longer have to wait for someone to return home to communicate with them.

I recently was driving my car on Interstate highways when I came upon a road blocked by the state police, for what I assumed was an accident ahead.  I was in unfamiliar territory and there were no detour signs posted; only a road block which took all traffic off the highway.

It quickly became clear to me that I didn’t know which way to go.  I (like many of us) no longer carry a paper road map in the car.  Why should I ?  My smart phone tells me how to go anywhere I desire, and how long it will take me to get there.  The problem is……    The smart phone program is stubborn, and it kept telling me to make a U-turn, and get back onto the highway I was just forced to leave !     I was a victim of technology.

My point here is our society is no longer honing skills which were once part of our everyday lives.



How about navigating the boat ?

Not only do we have GPS and RADAR systems on our personal recreational craft that would have amazed the ship captains of World War II; we now have helm stations available to drive the boat with a joy stick.  Joy stick operation is so simple, that even a child can make a 100’ yacht walk sideways to the dock.

I sincerely hope we are not losing the skills to navigate and operate our cars and boats due to our dependency on technology.  What if the computer breaks?  Imagine what a mess we would have if an enemy was to destroy the satellite systems over our heads?

As a marine surveyor, I frequently run across boats that are not outfitted with even the basic navigation equipment, such as a compass.  That’s a pretty basic tool !  I had a conversation recently with a friend who described getting caught in a heavy rain storm while fishing on a lake.  He said the rain was so heavy, the visibility was only 30 or 40 yards, and the sun was going down.  He became disoriented, and although not far from his home port; he was lost and called 911…..  A simple compass would have helped !

 My point here is: We should all make an effort to develop and maintain the skills required to operate our vehicles and lives without the high tech conveniences of which we have become accustomed.  Prepare for technical failure.  The “Baby Boomers” among us remember paper maps, dictionaries in hard-copy, putting film in a camera, and charting a course over land for the family vacation, or at sea on a paper chart.  But how about our younger generations?  Kids of today are becoming more and more dependent on technology, and many cannot survive without it;  a dangerous exposure, to say the least.

For the boaters seeking more knowledge and skills, there are numerous education opportunities available.  The US Coast Guard Auxiliary, and United States Power Squadron offer classes that range from simple “Safe Boating” to “Celestial Navigation.”  And, there are many, many other seamanship schools out there.  All of these classes advertise heavily.  A good place to find them is in the back of almost any boating magazine.  And, the good news is:  Many insurance companies will offer discounts for completion of these classes.

Captain Ron Smith

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