It’s a trite way to start an article, but let’s do it anyway:
Technology |tekˈnäləjē|, noun, the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.
Now that we are all together on the real meaning of the bold word at the top of the page, let’s identify the pieces on that grand swoopy yacht, gleaming in its whiteness, bobbing in the harbor, that are not in some way molded or made, by or with, technology.
I think you see my point. Technology is everywhere. In something charged with as demanding of a mission as a yacht – to safely cart people and things from place to place in exquisite luxury through an abusive and unforgiving environment – scientific knowledge is applied in gobs. Cleats and teak decks and windows and paint are infused with as much technology as those things with flashing lights and touchscreens and infrared sensors. Just for laughs, ask a yacht paint purveyor what it’s like to peddle a product free of technology – you’ll get an earful.
If we consider the section headings of the vastly informative world of OnboardOnline – things like “Engine Room” and “Interior” and “Communications” and “Security” and more – one would expect to see technological tidbits under all those. There are amazing advancements underway in propulsion, in satellite communication, in interior convenience, in vessel security; so where do I start? I might want to write about Alarm, Monitoring and Control (AMC) systems, because the extent of technological advancement in these types of automation systems is staggering…and I also work for a company – InteliSea – that designs and produces the best one of these (at least, in my opinion).
But that’s too obvious.
If you clicked on the “Technology” tab, you had some expectation. If I’m to provide a service, I need to know what that expectation was. This column will serve to elicit that information, to educate me, the author, about what it is you, the reader, hope to learn. Some questions, then. If we all agree that technology applies to any and everything associated with a yacht – okay, maybe not “Legal & Finance,” those folks are hopeless – it’s going to be important for us to determine what it is we hope to achieve. Knowledge, yes. Awareness, certainly. But I want us to challenge our conceptions about technology and generate a discussion that resonates through the industry, a discussion that helps those that provide us with technological products to define their own directions for the future. Small ambitions, but worthwhile.
To begin: what is it? We have the definition above which we’ve determined helps us not at all. We associate technology with advancement. It moves things forward, improves them (hopefully), and solves problems (yet more hopefully). For our purposes, let’s agree that the technology tab here will host discussions of kit and widgets and bobs and such generally not found aboard a yacht in the past, or so evolved in form and function as to be essentially “new.” As impressive as the processes or components may be of cleats or decks or windows, I’ll likely not discuss them here. And certainly not paint, because one has to be a molecular physicist to understand that stuff.
More important than what technology is, is what technology is for. If you have something to do with yachts – the building of them, the running of them, the owning of them, the lounging-on-and-sipping-gin-and-tonics of them – technology should make your life better. That is its mission. It should make your job easier, your experience more vibrant, your passage safer. You should go faster more efficiently, with lower impact, fewer problems and more capabilities. Technology should achieve this for you, in a personal fashion. It is not intended to make it easier for the machines under your feet or over your head. It is not to grease the skids of the life of the engineer designing the systems that make up the yachting enterprise. It is not to be wielded simply because it can be. Rather, it should not be intended for these things. To paraphrase Voltaire’s tortured protagonist, Candide: In the best of all possible worlds, technology would exist only to serve the user; to conceive of it would, by necessity, require the understanding of the mission discussed above, and would always consider the user first and all else a distant second. If you owned a cell phone in the late 1990s, you know this world is not always the best of all possible worlds. There is a tendency in those who originate technology (I’m going to lovingly call them gear-heads so as not to offend any engineers who may be reading) to be excited by the technology itself. And they should be, because their excitement does lead to innovation and progression. On occasion, however, the excitement a gear-head may have for any particular technology will not be translated into a specific benefit for the end user. When this happens, we get VCRs with clocks which perpetually blink 12:00, or cell phones with unretrievable messages, or anything made by Microsoft.
The dot-com boom of the 2000s started a revolution for the user when it came to technology. At least it did in the technology found in consumer electronics. I’ll let those of you who operate yachts decide if it penetrated to your world as well. The name taken by this revolution was User-Centered Design, and it made itself most visible in objects like cell phones, GPS devices, and web or tablet-based applications (the prevalence of the web as a tool for social connection, consumer spending, and productivity pushed software designers to consider the user first). Technology became a tool to serve this crucial user, especially in an environment where you’ve got eight seconds to grab a visitor. If you don’t, the Internet offers nearly limitless other options, other providers of a service. So this pushed the development and the idea of the user to prominence. While a case could be made for this recognition as far back as the 1940s and the emergence of ergonomics as a field of study, our modern thanks belong to the gear-heads of the Silicone Valley. They also did wonders for the value of my California home.
So that’s what it’s for – this technology stuff. It’s for you. Are you using it? Or is it using you? Simply because User Centered Design is a recognized principle does not mean it is always followed or implemented. Eating well is a good idea too, and yet my jeans keep shrinking. We might spend some time in this space examining why it is our industry can give so much lip service to technology and so little attention to its modern execution. Let’s face it, and discuss: the yachting industry is resistant to good technology. The kind of technology that serves its mission. Why? Well, I blame you. Our industry is complacent. Users – those who run and enjoy these cosmetically lovely products – do not demand the same type of service out of their systems as your average Ford Focus driver. Tradition and privilege likely play a role in this, as we all know that yachts are the passionate result of the work of artisans, and as such are held to different standards than a DVD player. They are also much harder to use than a DVD player. And they don’t have to be.
If you’ve got an iPad or similar, think of what you can do with it. It’s amazing. I can do so many cool things on my iPad, so easily, that I’m jaded to the whole experience. If I have to read a manual to use an app, I will never open it. And yet, I am artistic and productive and connected and powerful with my iPad. It can talk to my car and my house and my work and my loved ones. In seconds. Beautifully. But we’ve not grown bold enough to demand this of the artists (who should instead be business people) who build the yachts we work on and serve and enjoy, or the designers of the products which decorate and operate the same. Any good business – or artist, for that matter – should seek constant improvement, however, so we might expect yachts to embrace emerging user-centered technologies in spite of our complacency. In a ridiculous generality (and to generate dialogue), I’ll say here that they don’t. Why don’t they? Well, I blame me. And others like me who produce “technological” products for yachts. Some of these products – and I’m not pointing any fingers, especially not at me – may not have lived up to the standards to which all technological products should strive. So builders are once bitten. If it wasn’t easy for them, if it didn’t work, and if their customers weren’t asking for it, builders are pretty happy to not bother. Doing things as they were done the last time, even if that time was less than they could have done, is appealing because it does not require the generation of original planning or process. It requires no change.
In fairness to yacht builders, they are also shackled by a business model that does not encourage the adoption of new technology. For most builders, each yacht project is almost like a separate business. It has a budget, a finite amount of resources, sets of unique demands, and a definitive end point. In this structure, it becomes difficult for builders to apply some basic business measurements, like return on investment (ROI), to their efforts at advancement because they do not have the luxury of a key ingredient in those kinds of analyses: time. Apple could invest in user-centered technology across millions of iPhones; yacht builders are working on a single-unit business model. In that world, the end user is quickly pulled under by the tide of the bottom line.
We’ve made our way from technology to business models, passing briefly through French existentialism along the way. What have we learned? Well, we asked what technology is, what it’s for, what it means to us, and what some of its barriers are. We even played the blame game a little bit, and who doesn’t enjoy that? Perhaps we haven’t learned as much as we wanted, but these questions are not rhetorical. We now have a basis for dialogue, and a place to ask more questions and investigate more lines of inquiry. Please join the discussion and let’s all learn together.
Dan Mickelsen is President of InteliSea LLC, a company that specializes in technology solutions to enhance safety and security at sea. Formed in 2005, Intelisea offers a single solution of hardware and software which integrates disparate shipboard systems with common sense thinking, innovative technology and unfailing reliability. In a single intuitive display, InteliSea provides awareness, command and control of shipboard functions.
Crew operations have remained largely unchanged through the course of maritime history, even as larger and more complex vessels are taken to sea. Crew performance has been limited by the ability to quickly and easily collect, process and act upon information about the vessel in rapidly changing conditions. InteliSea removes those limitations.
InteliSea is both the name of our company and the name of our product. In fact, we think of them as one and the same. Our motto is “Common Sense Technology for Safety and Security at Sea”.
Dan has a background of visual, creative, and business skills. His past experience includes work as a professional photographer, writer, and head of an award-winning multimedia design and corporate communications firm. Dan found success with his common sense approach to creativity and communication, building information delivery tools for firms in many business sectors. His extensive work in usability, elegance, and effectiveness of technology has made him an expert in the marine industry. He is a passionate evangelist on applying these principles to shipboard safety and has spoken on the topic at numerous symposia.
Dan is a graduate of UCLA. A pilot and lifelong boater, Dan lives near the Pacific with his wife and three children.
Find out more about Dan and InteliSea at www.intelisea.com.