Authors note : this is my first contribution to the brains unite project, i am writing it and storing the original on my own website first as a draft so that it is not visible as a public post until after it has been released . The first subject that we are writing (or otherwise contributing to) is based around the title “The future of transportation” and it is fortuitous that this week the UK government declared that no new petrol or diesel fueled cars would be sold in the UK after 2040 so that is at least one version of the future right there. In the same week and closer to my own interests there was an article and short film clip of a proposed autonomous vehicle : in this case an autonomous cargo carrying ship being developed in Norway. Combine just those 2 and we immediately have a radically different future of transportation ie autonomous vehicles that don’t use fossil fuels.
This week i prepared posts about both of those subjects and while both were relevant to the subject neither of them struck me as being the kind of post that i wanted to write as a first contribution. They are both, if you will, ‘front of house’ subjects in that we might all have seen them as news or current interest and that’s fine but what i wanted to do was write about the consequences of the changes that either or both might bring along with them and so what i am going to attempt to put across here is that technological change always has other consequences, one of which is obsolescence of earlier technology and the trades that go with them. Before i start talking about the subject though i want to first say a few things about my approach to this project that we are embarked upon : first that it is my intention to ‘write from the heart’ but secondly to ‘write with my intellect’ limited as it is and thirdly with my unique sailors view which i express as ‘Look to Windward’ ie to see which way the wind is blowing and to prepare for whatever future that brings.
Now is the moment then to lay out my main argument here and it is this : that although it might be a desirable change for example to have vehicles being autonomous and not burning a finite resource, it WILL also make some people and their lives and trades obsolete. That is in itself worth thinking about so i will pose the first example as a question within the post and here is the context to the question i will pose :
“There are approximately 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the United States, according to estimates by the American Trucking Association. The total number of people employed in the industry, including those in positions that do not entail driving, exceeds 8.7 million. About one of every 15 workers in the country is employed in the trucking business, according to the ATA. These figures indicate that trucking is an exceptionally stable industry that is likely to continue generating jobs in the coming years.”
Here is the question then “if the future is autonomous vehicles and that includes trucks, no reason why it shouldn’t, then what is the future for the 3.5 million truck drivers and the other 5 million reckoned to work indirectly in the US transport industry alone ? Remember that those 3.5 million jobs might be considered as blue collar and largely male dominated simply because transport has mainly been a blue-collar and ‘mens’ work. Extrapolate that forward and out a little into the UK and Europe which relies heavily on bulk transport to supply its cities with all of its essential supplies and an industry that gives millions a life and an income…..what then ? It might not be the kind of life that you would want to lead but just like all trades today it is a valid life that generates an income for the trucker and van driver and i would say creates pride and a sense accomplishment in many whose choices of blue-collar work are so limited already.
Think on that first question if you will while i step sideways for a while and get a bit playful with the post. Before i do that though i want to say that i have seen, up close and personal, what happens when a change in political will deems an entire industry (actually 2 industries) both obsolete and politically undesirable and the result isn’t pretty. I am of course talking about the UK perspective when during the 1980’s the Thatcher government destroyed both the UK mining industry and the UK steel production industry : both hard blue-collar jobs with close-knit communities.
Now the sideways step and the time for me to have a bit of fun with the writing. I was born in a small market town in rural UK and lived in another small market town up until the age of 11. Market towns were still important at that time and the crucial thing about the description ‘market town’ is that they had been important local trading centres mainly for agriculture : my town had both a regular cattle market twice a week when the local stock farmers would come to buy and sell, and also that the largest building in the town was the ‘corn’ exchange. The town was small enough that the cattle market was a mere wall-jump behind our house and that the corn exchange was literally the next building along the street : the corn exchange was used for everything from its original purpose as trading post to local shows and concerts. The market towns were at that time important because of their relation to food production, there was some but not much employment locally so the importance of the nearby city to us ‘country’ people was that it offered employment in the ‘new’ industries. The local city was important to our family in that my father was employed in the factory there that built diesel engines and that factory and its output seemed ‘steady’ up until the 1970’s until suddenly it wasn’t a secure job any more.
My father’s actual occupation in terms of what is says on my parents marriage certificate and my birth certificate (yes i did a certificate for at least one thing !) isn’t ‘factory hand’ but ‘oaster’ or ‘oastman’ which doesn’t even make it onto this list : http://www.worldthroughthelens.com/family-history/old-occupations.php Maybe i should explain that the oastman who rakes out the barley on the roasting floor of the oasthouse and which is therefore part of the beer brewing industry. Had he been born in medieval England his name would have probably been John ‘Oaster’ as many men were named for the occupation they served, thus we get many English names such as Baker and Brewer, Crier and Chandler, Dyer, Falconer , Joyner, Kempster etc and etc. My own family name is closely related to gate-keeper in a shortenned form so possibly in my distant past an ancestor put his name on the census as ‘David Gateman’ or similar. Most of my schoolboy friends had job or trade manes as surnames, the main exception being those whose surname was a ‘place’ name…..all still very common today. Just for fun i looked at the telephone directory for the town where we lived to pick out as many trade names as i could recognise and its a long list of old and obsolete trades many of which i couldn’t quite remember what they did. One of my boyhood friends was a ‘Dave’ : his name was Barker and the origin of that name isn’t as i thought a ‘shouter’ or marker caller but whose job it was to strip the bark off trees possibly as far back as when rope would have been made from lime bark, equally it might have been from a later period when oak bark was essential to the tanning industry….and yes i have known a Dave ‘Tanner’ in my lifetime. Here then i give you the 4 obsolete ‘Dave’s’ from 10 or so more on the list in front of me.
Dave Barker. Trade or job : stripped bark off trees for rope-making or tanning
Dave Crier. The town crier whose job it was to make announcements in the market square : we actually had a town crier up until we left that place and he kept me awake many a night as he rang his bell and shouted “oyez-oyez” (listen) in the town square.
Dave Knapper. Trade : to ‘knap’ or chip flint to make the crucial flints for muskets and shotguns of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Dave Joyner. Joyner being an alternative spelling of ‘joiner’ which is one up from a carpenter and yes, i have known several people called carpenter during my life.
Three of the four are to the best of my knowledge truly obsolete jobs today, ok so there are plenty of joiners and carpenters thankfully but aside from a bloke who knaps flint at outdoor events and whose name is actually ‘Lord’ i don’t actually know anyone who strips bark commercially for rope-making and even rope-making is now more a part of the chemical industry so Dave Roper is probably redundant today as well !.
I think that many of our readers will see where this is going now ie that 3 of the 4 ‘Dave’s’ have been obsolete for a good few hundred years and few would even know of their trades today. In my lifetime Dave the bottom-captain (look it up) Dave the legman and Dave the bargee are all just fading into arcane memory. Today we have very fixed surnames, mores the pity : i might be a ‘Yates’ but i have never been a gateman or doorman in my life. Steve ‘Nurse’ doesn’t sound right and i much prefer Seaman Steve or maybe Steve Rigger although alas name changing isn’t an option. Today of course i wonder if in a few years Trucker Dave, White Van Man Dave, Seaman Dave, Stevedore Dave and countless others will have become obsolete and their lives and trades have faded into obscurity.
I still identify as a professional seaman in that i have taken other people to sea for a living and during that time have been an ‘able’ seaman competent to hand, reef and steer the boat, a rigger and topman competent to work aloft and a mate competent to be a watch keeper. Finally i was a capable ocean navigator and sailing vessel skipper licenced to drive a small commercial sailing vessel. There are differences between me and the bloke who drives a container ship or bulk carrier and who is a master-mariner : he for instance can ‘load’ a ship where for example the captain of a Royal Navy warship can not. We each share similar responsibilities such as the safety of our vessel, our crew and our passengers and we all work to identical regulations such as the collision regulations (colregs). This weekend for example i was engaged in a difficult windward beat to get back into my home river, as i was entering the narrow channel in the Hamoaze (plymouth) an MOD launch guarding and leading a frigate came barreling down the same channel. I could see instantly the same problem as the frigate and the guard boat : the frigate has to have the whole channel to manouevre and i had to make a judgement about which side to go….he helped me enormously by giving 2 blasts on his horn and that told me which way he was turning. Out at sea, say in the English channel when i am on passage to France i cross 2 shipping lanes where the big ships clearly have priority and where i have to cross the lane without obstructing them. As it is right now i know they are using a combination of high technology and good old fashioned human watch-keeping to avoid collisions with other ships and with small craft like mine. I also know that if in doubt or if in trouble i can get on the radio and talk to the ‘bloke’ on the bridge and maybe ask him about his intentions so that i don’t get in his way. At this stage in technology i don’t for example believe that a truly crew-less and autonomous vessel is ‘good’ in that respect in that the very human understanding and watch-keeping will be absent. This is if you will the beginnings for me in studying the future problems of working with autonomous ships.
Finally though i want to come full circle and suggest that the future of one mode of transport ie ships might be in centuries-old technology and the one that is my obsession ie sail. The title photograph is of the superyacht ‘ Maltese Falcon’ built in 2006. She is highly unusual for a yacht in that she is rigged as a sailing ship with 3 freestanding carbon-fibre masts that each carry 6 ‘yards’ that can deploy a total of 25 sails up to a total area of 25,000 square feet (my maxi race-yacht could fly about 4,000 sq ft). Unlike a sailing ship up to the early 20th century there is no need for a large crew to go aloft and manually set and reduce sail : its all done from a single workstation by the rig-master. Just as a comparison a full rigged sailing ship needed about 26 crew just to have enough body’s to handle the sails. Because the masts are freestanding and the yards can be rotated completely into the centreline she can also sail a lot closer to the wind than a traditional sailing ship. While hugely expensive to build : she is after all a wealthy mans ultimate toy, there is no reason that i can see that the yacht couldn’t be the forerunner of a new class of commercial sailing vessel that could carry cargo and passengers and not require a huge crew. We say in sailing that ‘the wind is free’ ! well it isn’t because it needs expensive kit to utilise that wind but once sailing along the trade routes that are still there the running costs plummet as fuel isn’t being used except maybe to generate on-board electricity (and there are other ways of doing that). I won’t say that commercial sail is THE answer to moving cargo but that it might be one future and sustainable solution and what a magnificent way to live and work for future ‘Dave’s’.
Autonomous ships. http://www.rolls-royce.com/~/media/Files/R/Rolls-Royce/documents/customers/marine/ship-intel/rr-ship-intel-aawa-8pg.pdf
Maltese Falcon : https://www.symaltesefalcon.com/
Town Crier : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_crier
Obscure and obsolete job descriptions. : http://www.worldthroughthelens.com/family-history/old-occupations.php