The sky is falling

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes
UK policy
A bit of spaceship

Twenty years ago today was the second time, in a span of seventeen months, that I found myself standing in my flat in Washington DC, watching the telly, watching a picture of something falling from the sky, and as the thing fell to earth I reflexively reached out my hand to catch it, as if it was a thing the cat had knocked off the shelf. As with seventeen months prior, as the thing fell, I couldn’t catch it.

Like so many of my generation, shuttles falling from the sky shaped my beliefs about the world and my place in it. I don’t know why that is. But I know what I feel.

Today I want you to read this blog post. It’s part of a fantastic blog owned by a former Space Shuttle engineer: part memoir, part confessional. This was a man who was in the rooms where decisions were made. Ten years ago, he used the blog to lay out all of those decisions. But he worked backwards, starting from the moment he was standing on the tarmac at Cape Canaveral waiting for his friends to come home, not knowing they had already fallen from the sky. He ends with the post I want you to read today.

In the blog post, he quotes the closing remarks of the accident investigation board which excoriated the organisational culture, the office politics, the groupthink, and the lack of creative thinking, in that room, which caused seven souls to fall to earth, twenty years ago today. At the end, he asks the question:

…how did so many hard working, intelligent, safety minded people come to make such a fundamentally unsafe set of decisions? And do you think that you or your organization is immune? Think again.Wayne Hale

I thought of that post, and the culture described in it, when I spotted this story yesterday. It’s great work as always from Alexander Martin:

The UK is determined to be a “world leading” nation which is the “safest place in the world to be online”, and one way or another, it will be, because someone in upper management has decided to shift the metrics to make it so. Here, as with there, the “safety” itself does not need to be present, and people do not actually need to be protected. All this strategy requires, as Alexander’s story notes, is for unnamed ministers to demand that the thing is true, no matter how badly reality needs to bend to make that happen, no matter how many issues are silenced at the table, and no matter who is falling to earth in that decision’s wake.

Things are falling from the sky, right now, everywhere. And I can’t catch them.

The Author

I’m a UK tech policy wonk based in Glasgow. I work for an open web built around international standards of human rights, privacy, accessibility, and freedom of expression. The content and opinions on this site are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of any current or previous team.