600 Years Ago, the Sea Was Space

Looking out at the ocean recently, I got to thinking about the ocean. Living by the ocean. Being tied to the ocean. Being a tiny speck, far out to sea.

And it struck me that 600 years ago, the ocean might have been a lot like outer space is for us. An unforgiving place of danger (still is, in many ways). The unknown, where the era’s high-tech was deployed. A place where your eyes might see what no other eyes had ever seen in all of history. And a place where you and your nation might gain glory.

The high-technology ranged from ship and sail designs to maps, weapons, navigational tools, and even knowing where land was based on clouds forming or making sense of waves reflected and refracted by islands.

In other places and eras, spices were high-tech — flavor-enhancement and health-enhancement in one package — and empires were built on their trade. Roman soldiers’ gear and tactics were high-tech, as were their empire’s roads and other civil engineering projects. At one point, the C&O Canal near where I live was high-tech, obsoleted within a decade or so of its peak by the railroad.

I’ve even read that tea was high-tech in England ~200 years ago: laborers drank ale to soothe weary bodies, information-workers drank tea to boost mental capabilities. (IT industry and caffeine, anyone?)

Now, here I sit, typing on an iPad, wirelessly loading the words via 3G to a server thousands of miles away. I have a Master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence… Or am I a master cartographer who lives by the sea? Guess I’ll just have to listen to the rain falling and the waves crashing to be sure.

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