I started this post just planning to share a CBC news item on a new way to track all ships at sea – one more application of satellite surveillance and data mining that have also been quite newsworthy of late.
But on Wednesday I heard a Terry Gross Fresh Air interview with author Rose George on her new book “Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping” (The long sub-title goes on thusly: “…the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate”) NPR posted an excerpt here. Rose George also has her own webpage that details her career and other books.
And that reminded me of a recent NCPR/Innovation Trail story by Kate O’Connell on the shortage of truck drivers to move all those containers hither and yon. Experts quoted in that story pointed to low wages and regulatory issues. Still, demand to prop up this current transportation system looms behind those employment considerations.
So here’s a bundle of all that together, as a big-picture take on how we get and move all our stuff, with sidebar aspects of worker rights and surveillance technology. (All of which connect to our region by way of the products we buy and the St. Lawrence Seaway.)
As this Atlanticwire items states, the shipping industry is bigger than many of us imagine.
For those who like details, the above-mentioned CBC science and technology article on ship tracking article is worth a closer read. While the story depicts a commercial service, the implications of tracking ships at sea sounds both exciting and Orwellian, as can be imagined in this exchange with an executive from exactEarth Ltd:
“Until we started doing this…you had little bits of information, but you really didn’t have a complete domain awareness of what’s out there,” said Philip Miller, the company’s vice president of engineering and operations.
“Once a ship leaves the shore, essentially they’re a sovereign entity …. A captain can go where he wants. And from shore you didn’t know what was happening unless you contacted the ship and asked — whereas now we’re watching, and we know where they go.”
Shipping seems to tie into so many hot topics: the environment, sustainability, economic efficiency, and new applications of technology. This includes the expansion of surveillance that so many are mulling over these days: “…now we’re watching, and now we now where they go.”
I may never look at a cargo ship – or even a tractor trailer – the same way again.