New technology and advances in technology are only worth the money and time it takes to learn if they prove their value by helping mariners operate more safely and/or efficiently.

At the same time, the technology must not undercut those gains with needless and avoidable complexity that distracts us or leaves us more vulnerable to a systems failure. It is important that this be done prior to a technology’s widespread adoption.

Claims that a product or technology is “new and improved” have been around forever, and sometimes there may even be a hint of truth to them. But I’ve been less and less impressed over the last decade than ever before. While the pace of change and the claimed advances associated with it has steadily increased, the experience at the user end is often stagnant or deteriorating. Needless complexity, useless features, declines in reliability and, most importantly, user-friendliness, all add up to frustration for those tasked with navigating in the era of almost unlimited liability.

Not so long ago, during the Steve Jobs era, Apple was renowned for both technical prowess and user-friendliness. Their stuff always worked. It used whatever existing complexity needed to make it all work, hidden “under the hood.” The user experience was simple, seamless, you could say even elegant. It all integrated so nicely. Today? Not so much. Has anyone noticed that the latest versions of iTunes are really lame?

The same can be said for much of the software-based marine electronics of all types that frustrate and distract us while we execute our on-watch duties. In fact, it’s getting harder and harder to find simple, singular devices that quietly and reliably do their jobs well without trying to do 10 other things.

The trend toward full systems integration of all components is particularly worrisome to mariners. These systems often don’t play nice with one another. Even worse, it leads you right into the single-point failure danger zone.

Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.