Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Situational Awareness

Here’s the issue with technology - it’s distracting - even deadly. This video of a guy getting bowled over by a rogue wave is a great example of how your cell phone can kill you. Take a second to watch the video.Now, from simple deduction we know quite a lot about the lad in the video. For instance, we know he is a millennial for the following reasons:
  1. He’s standing outside in a hurricane demonstrating a youthful sense of invulnerability. 
  2. He’s videoing the seething ocean with his smartphone’s camera. 
  3. Because he’s completely absorbed by the images on his screen he’s paying absolutely no attention to his surroundings or the danger that he’s in.
  4. He’s obsessed with capturing the moment digitally, not with actually being in the moment and creating a memorable experience; as a result his life is lived at a digital arms length.  
Our hero is no different from hundreds of other millennials crossing the street and insouciantly walking out in front of cars. The idea that because pedestrians have right of way cars must see them and stop for them is, at best, optimistic. Often drivers have no idea there’s a pedestrian in the area - after all, who walks any more? And like the giant wave that nobbles our hero, distracted pedestrians are at the mercy of much more powerful forces. 

Dealing with technology on a sailboat is not really any different. Electronic charts are a wonderful thing - except that there has yet to be a system that equals the simplicity and readability of a good old paper chart. Nautical charts have over 400 years of development behind them and have pretty much figured out how to present large amounts of complex information quickly. Meanwhile electronic charts are relative newcomers and human interface design still in its (relative) infancy. 

A big part of the problem is users get distracted by all the bells and whistles afforded by modern software. Because we all look at information differently and interpret it differently my view of a paper chart simply may not be yours, but with paper the information itself is at least static. With an electronic chart plotter the information is dynamic and can be tuned the whims of the viewer. With such customization enough variance in can be introduced that two people will first have to agree on what they’re looking at and then what is missing. 

So while we’re all digging around in the software trying to get our virtual bearings, the real world is moving on and before we know it - poof! - our situation has changed and our awareness of our surroundings compromised. It’s then we may find ourselves suddenly at the mercy of one of Mother Nature’s rogue waves and ourselves get toppled. Perhaps I’m a Luddite, but I like paper charts. I might compromise with a digital display of a paper chart, as long as I have a hardcopy close to hand. After all, batteries, like old sailors, often simply fade away. 

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