Over Christmas I was back in England enjoying the holiday season with family and friends. In the very pretty village of Winchelsea, Kent, we went for lunch one day at the New Inn; highly recommended, if you’re ever in that part of the world.
In the bar a picture on the wall caught my eye; it was a map of the local coastline showing the site of all the shipwrecks and the names of ships that had gone down over the years. Over a roughly three hundred year span there had been literally thousands. You had to squint at the map to differentiate between the name of one ship and another. What was remarkable was that the map covered an area of only about 30 miles, east and west of Winchelsea, which took in most of the “Cingue Ports”, the fortified towns that protected England from continental invaders in the days of European wars.
The picture got me thinking that to become the great Maritime nation that it became English kings and queens and politicians and business leaders and sailors and families left behind had to get very used to the risks that were part and parcel of venturing out on to the high seas and beyond.
Every time a ship went down people died, dependent’s lives were destroyed and money was lost. Every time disaster struck many people must have wrung their hands and asked the plaintive question, “is it worth it”? Many of them surely answered “no”.
But yet they carried on - building better ships, taking better soundings and drawing better maps, equipping the ships with life rafts; all things that would hopefully mitigate the real and ever present dangers. And of course, the reason they did this was because the rewards were worth it, for king and country.
As I sat there, one (or two) pints of Shandy down, the parallel with our own generation’s “digital explorations” struck me quite forcefully. Every week - seemingly now everyday - we hear about a new “digital shipwreck”; Sony, JPMC, Target, the list goes on and on.
This infographic gives the full gory details if you’re keeping tabs; http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/worlds-biggest-data-breaches-hacks/
And every time a wreck happens and real people’s lives are impacted the plaintive question is asked, “is it worth it”? Many people answer “no”.
Yet, we carry on, because we know it’s worth it. We - the kings and queens and politicians and business leaders and those who “sail” on the “digital voyage”, and the families left behind - all know that the future is full of risk. And full of reward. And while the rewards are never evenly distributed (the digital “kings” are getting most of the rewards currently!) we know - to use another nautical term - that a rising tide lifts all boats. Over the long term we WILL all benefit from the new terrain we find and settle and the new trade that we forge.
Not everyone accepted the risks of heading out to sea; not everyone will accept the risks of the new digital terra incognito. That’s understandable and just the way it is. But pretty much everyone in England did benefit because some people were prepared to go to sea. And I thought (perhaps on my third Shandy) everyone WILL eventually benefit from the digital voyage we’re now on.
As our lunch wrapped up I found myself looking at the map again and wondering whether in a few more hundred years the New Inn will have another map next to the map of shipwrecks showing all the hacks that had happened in the surrounding neighborhood. But then perhaps that was just the fourth Shandy talking!