Moving the Big Boat Did Not Magically Fix the Global Economy
The big boat may be unstuck, but our deeply technologized, infinitely complex economy is just beginning to get jammed
Welcome to No One’s Driving, a column by novelist and tech writer Tim Maughan about how to understand a world governed by systems and technologies that are spiraling out of control.
As I write this, I have an extra tab open in my browser, which has been open all week. It’s there so that I — a captive of my increasingly frayed, exhausted attention span — can compulsively check it at any given time. It’s a livestream of news updates from the Suez Canal, where the 220,000-ton Ever Given and its cargo of 10,000 shipping containers ran aground and blocked one of the world’s most important trade routes. Until the ship’s abrupt freeing on Monday, nobody knew what would happen next. Some reports suggested that it might take weeks of excavating sand and reshaping the canal itself to get the Ever Given to budge. Others got it closer to right — that rising tides would help shift it out of torpor. Either way, a huge traffic jam formed of upwards of 200 ships, all waiting to take their turn to enter the canal.
I am obviously not the only one who became obsessed with the stuck ship. You’ve probably watched some of the coverage yourself. Everyone has. It was nearly impossible to avoid the endless memes and jokes that have flooded the internet.
The Ever Given had been stranded only a few hours when the conspiracy theories started. The QAnon cultists quickly decided it was stranded as part of a special ops military action meant to free children being smuggled in shipping containers by Hillary Clinton. A slightly more down-to-earth and also popular theory posited that the accident must have been deliberate based on the fact that the ship seemed to trace a crudely drawn cock and balls before heading into the canal—imagined to be a kind of final “fuck you” for the whole world to see from a disgruntled captain just before committing an act of revolution against global capitalism. It’s a fun thought that becomes less logical the more you think about it — and even more so when you know that those maneuvers are typical for…