A Luddite’s Identity Crisis

By John Andreotti
(Aboard M.V. Poseidon)

Until Twitter entered the lexicon, I never considered myself a Luddite.  Poseidon is an older boat but we’ve consistently upgraded her systems and electronics and now, like almost every boat owner, we’re reliant on components we can’t personally rebuild (or even see, in some cases) and on satellites and microwave towers over which we have no control.

When I found myself wondering whether a rejected password was case sensitive, it only confirmed that I’m a bona fide citizen of the digital age.

Then someone told me they’d tweeted me – the Poseidon Cooks! site is on a Twitter feed – and I realized that I’m really not at the sharp end of cyberspace and probably never will be.  I’m involved in a tweet?


Am I a Luddite or is it legitimate to question the instant and superficial nature of these fleeting messages?  Do they trivialize communication to the point that authentic connection is undermined – just as, it seems to me, Cup-A-Soup or Poptarts inure us to the more profound pleasures of ‘real’ soups or pastries.  I understand the appeal of ‘instant,’ of course.  The question for me is, does that appeal destroy the deeper satisfactions of pleasures that require a commitment – whether in personal communication or cooking or anything else?

In their various forms, these questions affect almost everything life.  Screw top or cork, for example – but that’s a discussion for another forum.  Does it make sense that we buy two thousand dollar computers and throw them away after two or three years, persuaded that another almost imperceptible advance in speed or sophistication has rendered the old system obsolete?  (And that ignores the fact that nothing can be repaired.)  I know I’d be rightly accused of Luddism if I yearned for an old Remington typewriter, the precision and beauty of its mechanics; the intricate patterning of its graphics.  One might as well yearn for an old car with no electronic engine controls, real spark plugs – and a lot of rattling and rolling!  But when you ride in a new BMW, surrounded by technologies which are beyond belief at the price, you have to wonder whether some kid will be passionately rebuilding that car in 50 years.  Probably not.  He’ll be teleporting himself from here to there via an iPhone app …

The Engine Control Update

All these and similar thoughts were prompted by the decision to upgrade Poseidon’s engine controls.  The old system was wire, cable and pulleys and I could just feel it developing arthritis.  And so we settled on ZF’s Micro Commander, an electronic throttle and gear shift control system.  Among its many features, you can use one throttle lever to control and sync. both engines – within a single rpm!

Unlike my old cable system, either engine can be revved out of gear for warm-up.  More important, our anchor system uses engine-driven hyrdraulics so, if I need it while anchoring, I can up the hydraulic pressure by upping engine revs.

The ZF is quite easy – subtle – in its touch and feel, especially compared to a mechanical cable unit, and it comes with a remote control unit (of which more later) that can be used from any part of the boat.

A word of caution about the remote.  You have to make sure you and the remote are facing in the ‘right’ direction, or you’ll find yourself going backwards when you ought to be forwards.  I find that certain brands of liquor have the same effect.

Having selected the new system, we set to work removing the old.  We pulled out hundreds of feet of cable and conduit and a bin full of pulleys.  As we dumped these forty year old components, I couldn’t help a spasm of regret – that these beautifully machined parts were now entirely useless.  Superceded by a simple wire run and a series of potentiometers.

In the engine room, great levers and return springs and cable runs were replaced by two small boxes, one for each engine, and a couple of solenoids.  The old system looked as if it would have survived a Nelsonian broadside.  Will the new system work faultlessly for the next forty years?

No question about it, the new system is a dream to operate.  Sitting up in the pilothouse, I had a moment of pride.  Sure.  I can embrace new technologies as well as the next geek.   But then came the question of the remote control option. A simple decision: wireless or wired?  No problem!  I’m the man of the New Age.

Hell, I may even start tweeting.