Monday, May 16, 2011

When technology isn't the answer

Whenever I get frustrated with technology that doesn't work as well as it should, I'm always reminded of a documentary I saw about ten or fifteen years ago about the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, the most advanced piece of military technology in the world at the time.

They had a sophisticated computer system running everything, a real novelty in the day. It handled the weapons systems, the stores, even the daily menus. It was a pretty impressive piece of software.


Downstairs in the aircraft hangar, they had a huge magnetic metal table. On it there was a painted plan of the hangar deck, complete with all the bays. They had a box of colored nuts, some red and some blue, with the serial numbers of each aircraft on it, and they simply put them in place on the table to give them an instant view of which planes were where, and which were unserviceable (red) or ready for action (blue).

At flight deck level, in aircaft dispatch, the dispatcher used a chinagraph pencil to write the number of each aircraft on the inside of the plexiglass dome as it took off, and erased it with his thumb as it landed, giving him an instant view which aircraft were in flight.

Despite all the technology, the guys who had to run the place relied on simple, manual systems, because they were easier to maintain, more reliable, and actually gave the people who needed it the information they wanted faster than computer readouts. And - though they never had to test it - more likely to continue working if the ship ever took damage.

1 comment:

Overman said...

It's an important reminder. I have many times caught myself trying to force a square peg in a technology-shaped hole. Sometimes it's better to unplug and remember common sense - and that these opposable thumbs are darn useful.