The loss of the letter

Thanks for the cat videos. Thank you for all the pictures of your protein smoothies and for letting me know that you worked out this morning. Thank you especially for inviting me to play Candy Crush Saga. And thank you, really, for your latest selfie — I almost forgot what you looked like.

Facebook, like the Internet itself, has a lot of promise. It has the potential to allow people to reconnect and share aspects of their lives with loved ones across great distances. It allows for a cultural exchange of ideas, art and information.

It provides a network through which millions of strangers can unite as one to accomplish what they cannot do alone.

Just like the Internet, however, Facebook is a cultural mirror. It shows us exactly who we are — what we like, what we desire and what we believe. For those willing to look beyond the trees to see the whole forest, Facebook is an unflatteringly accurate reflection of modern society — narcissistic, self-centric, superficial. There can be no other explanation for the volume and nature of the content we share. To look at Facebook is to see the world as the backdrop to somebody else’s selfie. Intelligent expression has been reduced to little more than an endless barrage of witty and sarcastic captions typed across photos of famous faces.

I recently came across a news story about a collection of letters that had been written by Albert Einstein to his friends and colleagues over the course of his career. I read some of them. Combined, they are the portrait of a man — fiercely intelligent, romantic, humorous, compassionate. In the age of Facebook, we have stopped writing letters, and in doing so, we have lost a gift of immeasurable value.

In this Facebook-ized society, we are having fewer and fewer meaningful conversations. As a result, we are not only depriving ourselves of the opportunity to interact on a deeper level with others, but we are also depriving future generations of something that our generation takes for granted — letters. Thanks to ink and paper, we presently enjoy a rich, historical record of insightful dialogue and the exchange of original ideas. It is highly doubtful that scholars in the next century will have the patience or inclination to sift through trillions of Facebook posts. And if they do, what will they find?

I have long believed that the greatest strength of the human species is our ability to communicate, to share complex and meaningful ideas so our accomplishments can be reproduced by others for the betterment of all.

By design, Facebook is the ideal tool for us to do just that — to express our creativity and share our intelligence. So, to that end, I’ll refrain from sharing a pictures of my breakfast and quotes from my cat.

Murrant’s Rant: The Sea of Bureaucracy

From what I am told, my grandfathers built boats.  Their fathers and grandfathers also built boats.  It was an essential skill and a tradition sixty or a hundred years ago in Port Morien and New Waterford.  I am sad to say that I never got to know my grandfathers.  If I had, I might have learned a thing or two about boat building.  It seems like such a Nova Scotian thing to know about.  We’ve been building boats for generations.  The instructions should be written into our DNA.

Since I don’t know about boat building, I won’t rant about the Bluenose II.  I won’t rant about the $21-million cost and how that money could have been better spent on education, healthcare, social services, or economic development.  Instead of ranting, I will just tell you what I learned.

The original Bluenose was built in 1921 with a wooden hull and wooden rudder, and as we all know, it worked really well until it hit a reef in 1946.  The Oland brewing company built the Bluenose II in 1963 to promote Schooner beer.  The province bought it in 1971.  It too had a reliable wooden hull and a wooden rudder.  This replica operated until 2010 when it was dry-docked for a complete reconstruction.  The newly rebuilt Bluenose II (which should really be called the Bluenose III) was also intended to have a wooden rudder.  That is, until the Texas-based American Bureau of Shipping had their say.

After hundreds of years of constructing ships with wooden rudders, the Lunenburg builders were told by the American Bureau of Shipping that wood was not acceptable.  For the iconic Nova Scotia schooner to receive “class certification” it needed a steel rudder.  I imagine the conversation went something like this: “Yes, we know schooners have always been made of wood, but super tankers and oil rigs are made of steel, so we’re afraid your wooden schooner will need a steel rudder.”  The modification delayed the launch of the Bluenose II by a year and put the project even further over budget.

Another reconstructed schooner, the Columbia, is sailing in maritime waters this summer.  It was built in Massachusetts around the same time the Bluenose II was being reconstructed in Lunenburg.  A couple of weeks ago, in late August, the Columbia and the Bluenose II had a chance to sail side by side.  To me, because I don’t know anything about ships, they look almost the same. Below the water, however, there is at least one critical difference: the Columbia has a wooden rudder.  According to a report by the Auditor General of Nova Scotia, the new Bluenose II likely could have kept its wooden rudder too, if Bluenose II project managers had simply appealed to the American Bureau of Shipping.

I can’t help but wonder what my grandfathers would have said if a bureaucrat from Texas tried to tell them how to build a wooden boat?