Merchant Navy tete-a-tete Software/IT
Arguments broke out between my pal from IT sector and myself about the significance of our profession. Of course a very peevish thing to fight about, but that’s how human mind continues its growing-up. Even with all its meaningless gossips, such talks often contribute a lot in shaping our decisions of life.
To me it was also about evaluating a decision in retrospect, which I had made long ago, when I would aspire to a be computer professional , but some how accidentally arrived into Merchant Navy.
Software is a risen industry, with lots of consumption of human work force, elite, hi educated and hi-tech educated, gender mix, decent paying, white-collared and more respected.
Merchant Navy, on the other hand, was an old time profession, (arguably one of the oldest method of trade in human history), has been so written about in history that it is rather a cliché now; provides handsome money packets, risk-involving, unpopular to the extent seen as sleazy work class, mix between blue-collar and white-collar, not so conducive for a family-life, and gone rather unpopular with the masses at large.
My friend argued about how the IT was sooner to take over as the most important profession around. He counted up all the contributions that the software industry was doing to our current civilization. From banking, to communications, to education, it was IT all the way.
Something made me express my serious concerns over this huge exodus of Indian masses towards a sector which any remained ‘subservient’ to the other basic industries, by which I meant Industries where goods or human sweat are actually traded. The banking did exist even without the IT, although, I agree, not so smartly as it today. Communications, I would hold is one place where everything, every new development, is hinged on the IT. Indeed the communication sector is the heart of IT Industry, whereby they both serve each other by every new invention in any of these.
Merchant Navy, at one corner, had reduced to only a carrier, albeit, of the most strategic commodity on the planet in current civilization-- the crude oil. It transport the Energy from one place to another, while the IT was working on to actually cut down need for movement of the livings and non-livings. IT , to my thinking, is a more recent new-born setup before the magnanimous treatise of the MN, thus lesser time-tested, more hyped. Another revolutinising invention could wrap it back into the oblivion as quickly as it had appeared on.
He then expressed his premonitions about the advent of the Teleportation technology which would give ‘energy doors’, completely demolishing need of Merchant navy for moving goods by sea.
I immediately sttruck back with- the arrival of the Artificial Intelligence, which would produce software by itself, to run the systems and industries.
We then thought may be we had gone a little too far in hold up our own against each other. AI and Teleportation were still too far away into the future. Conversation recoiled back to the current times and current scenario.
He expressed probablities of aviation taking over the goods transportation, much the same way it took over the passenger movement. I attempted to scale it down by informing that enormous carriage volume and strenght with respect to cost was quite a distant dream too.
Indians are holding firm grip on the job scenario in both-- IT and Merchant Navy. Our impending linguistic rivals were the same - the Chinese.
MN doesn’t attract so much man power from developed nations. Over there, it is often perceived as a poor man’s profession. A near fisherman’s job- who are ready to take huge risk to make their living. It is categorized along side mining, diving and other hi-risk jobs. The Japanese, the Greeks, the Americans, the Italians, the British, the Dutch, the Germans, -- only like to own ships for business and profit-making; Indians, Philippines, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis,- work on them; they are the operators of vessel, acting at the instructions of the white ship owners.
On the credit side, this showed a scope of Indians surving in the MN job scene so long as they were willing to take the risk of sailing on rough seas. The rewards were 'too high' for the current economic conditions of our country, when dollar is gaining/strong against the rupee.
The IT, to me didn’t produce much good picture either. Most of the IT ‘software engineers’ I met around were near data-feeder while the core designing of the whole Internet, the Computer Systems worked somewhere in the white world again. Accounts from ‘The world is flat’ presented some other picture to me, making me question who the whole real makers, architects and designers, of the softwares and the internet were. Not Indians by any chance, however hard we may chant our achievements in the field.
On a second comparisons, the success of the IT was almost same as that in MN; -- the British, the French , the Spanish, the Dutch( the Netherlands) once held grip over the MN when the MN was the peak job. They ruled the planet and in fact, our country too ,(through the infamous East India Company) and later in time passed on the seamanship skills to us, while they moved to computers and other new technologies. Columbus, Marco Polo, Vasco-de-Gama were the heroes of this profession in those times giving testimony to us, Indians, as to where were we.
The IT of today, however, does give some respect to Indians to feel. The Infosys, the Wipro, the Satyam, the TCS, the HCL- are giving us some of our proud moments. But this was as too subsequent in the field as the grip of Indian mariners in the seafaring world. What our IT professionals built-up over there was not much different from what we sea-farers conquered way into the high seas-- what did India gain from it??
Our overall significance as a professional was probably to be better measured by how much country developed from it. The MN despite being the biggest consumers for the steel products, and India being one of the largest exporters of bauxite ore, has not done any good to either the steel industry or ship building. The IT, at it own debit side, has done nothing but produce surplus low-quality ‘software engineers’, because of hyped public reputation of IT industry, taking away some probably good mechanics and engineers who could have helped in our nation’s actual lacking fields.
Neither brought any benefit to the Agriculture sector, which perhaps could have been India biggest asset considering our enormous land territory. Instead we have got more focused on exporting labour-- out at sea, and away to on-site assignments.
Individual industries’ contribution to national economy were recited, but sooner realized that it was all at the cost of losing at many other fronts, from R&D , agriculture, to small-time merchants. We produced largest amount of milk at the cost of poor health of our cattle!
The talks were abandoned unconcluded.
PS(dated 04 March 2009): Shipping is presently one of the most essential part of global logistics. And logistics is the backbone of world trade. So long as there is economics activity happening in the world, there is likely to be seafaring around. However, the seafarers can still suffer jolts in their job market, say in the events like some replacement of hydrocarbon fuel is found. Oil Tankers market will suffer and thereby, the sea-farer.