One hundred years ago the shipping community strained to conceive that one of the most grand ocean going machines ever built had succumbed to natural forces and 1,517 lives were lost as a result.
Our parent publication, the New York Times, began reporting the sinking before the ship broke apart and slipped into the dark waters. Today the story continues to be told in print, online, in broadcast, and on film. Although we consume this story over and over again we learn few lessons and often lose focus when it comes to important lessons.
Over the past year numerous books, documentaries, and dramatizations were announced in conjunction with the centennial of the sinking. Most of this entertainment has its place but many important lessons are lost. It is inconvenient to have your characters die of hypothermia after only three to five minutes of dialogue but that was likely the reality if a passenger was immersed in water at those temperatures.
These portrayals of the disaster impress upon the viewer that a shipwreck is an orderly and sometimes picturesque event when in reality it is the definition of fear and chaos. This disconnect is bothersome since it bypasses the safety advances made in the past one hundred years. Yes, unfortunately there are still wrecks brought about by foolish behavior like the Costa Concordia last year in Italy but shipping of all sorts is safer now than ever before.
The most important lesson of all is that despite good design there is always the possibility of human or technical error. The sea can swallow the largest ships and hide them for decades or centuries. We cannot have another disaster because we overestimate our technological abilities. Let the Titanic rest but never let her lessons be forgotten.