The Parable of the Ocean Liner
Once upon a time, in the gilded age of ocean travel, there was a great ocean liner. Sumptuously appointed, no cost was spared as it was outfitted. Its construction, technology, materials, finishings, and craftsmanship were unsurpassed. Mahogany, teak, walnut, marble, Tiffany glass, crystal, gold, copper, and brass--these were among the materials lavishly employed. The staffing--the captain and crew--were highly professional and well-trained. From design, to engineering, to meals and service, the ocean liner was top of its class. Its purpose? To speed the transport--and facilitate the comfort--of trans-continental passengers. Its navigation systems reflected the best science of its times. Passengers filled the ship as it sailed from continent to continent. There was even a waiting list for travelers to find a berth aboard.
Naturally, to deliver these services much activity occurred behind the scenes. Meetings of captain and crew were held with regularity. Staff in various departments--cooking, housekeeping, engineering, maintenance, navigation--all met regularly to be sure their tasks were coordinated, polished, and professional. After all, the paying passengers deserved this; and the mission was a worthy one--state-of-the-art world travel for the guests. In its heyday, the ocean liner received numerous awards and was well-rewarded by full bookings and the recognition and appreciation of governments and industry. It was an indispensable part of society and highly regarded.
But, over time, changes in travel and technology cut into the liner's relevance and importance in global transportation. The advent of airplanes, of jet liners in particular, made the ocean liner seem ponderous, quaint, and outdated. Now, for the relative few who chose to travel by ship, the destination became less important, but the creature comforts remained paramount. The captain and crew still served with professionalism and excellence. The various staff still met frequently to plan the details of their unique services: the ordering of food and preparation of delicious meals; the maintenance of the boilers and engines; the cleaning of the rooms; the entertainment of the guests. Countless hours were spent in discussion and debate about the best ways to conduct these activities aboard the ship--but, sadly, fewer and fewer passengers chose this means of travel. In fact, the ship sailed less and less frequently, often remaining anchored in the harbor for months at a time.
Yet the meetings continued. The budgets were still developed--though, with fewer passengers, services and staff needed to be scaled back. Great debates occurred among the management and personnel about new furnishings for the ship: which carpets would look best (and which could be afforded)? Much capital was spent on repairs and maintenance. As the income from passengers all but dried up, hard choices needed to be made. Could the ship really expect to sail, with reduced crew, limited maintenance, and antiquated navigation systems? With great reluctance, it was finally concluded that the best way for the ship to have a role in society was for it to remain at port, moored in the harbor. Tours would be offered to those interested in exploring its history and viewing its staterooms and grand dining facilities. Minimal maintenance, therefore, was needed, just enough for its doors to remain open. The captain retired; the staff were let go. All that remained were tour guides dressed in period costumes, typical of the golden age of ocean travel--and fewer and fewer visitors paid the fees for entry.