Friday, 30 December 2011

Rational living: the choice of simple strucutures that are easy to operate

"Their ships are too small and too frail," maintained King Harold in 1065. "England is perfectly safe. There is absolutely no risk of a Norman invasion." Since the king had himself extensive experience as sailor, the barons and dukes of England assumed that he knew what he was talking about. Was King Harold's conclusion based on facts?

Viking or Norman ships are called cogs due to their simple construction technique, whereby pieces of wood are cut so as to fit together without need of nails. Since cogs were equipped with just one mast and one sail, they were easy to handle.

Cogs were ideal to navigate rivers upstream in order to infiltrate foreign territories behind the lines of defence. In those cases, the sail was removed, the crew picked up long oars, and propelled the small ship by rowing.

Horses and other animals travelled on the open deck next to the crew, sharing the little space available. When it rained, there was no cover. On the other hand, the small size of cogs allowed the crew to pull them out easily when they got stranded.

In 1066, King Harald was told that Normans were about to attack England using a flotilla of cogs, but he dismissed it as a rumour. Those ships were too small to transport horses and weapons. Those ships were too frail to sail away from the coast.

As soon as the Normans arrived in England, they disembarked their horses, regrouped near the beach, and began to march quickly towards York. Two weeks later, the invaders crushed the English army in Hastings.

King Harold was captured in battle, mutilated, and dismembered. His death marked the end of Anglo-Saxon rule in England. The Vikings, or Normans, as they came to be called, had taken over the country by means of their small cogs.

Which lessons can we draw from the story? Does it contain wisdom that is still applicable in our electronic times? Yes, it does. Internet blogs are the digital equivalent of Norman cogs.

Like England in 1066, we tend to perceive our culture as a stable constellation of well-established media. TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines resemble King Harold's barons and dukes. Internet blogs, like Norman cogs, seem too small to carry any cultural weight. If you are a writer with an internet blog, how could you best apply the Norman strategy in order to increase your audience? This is my advice.

1. LIMITED SPACE: The Normans did not have a lot of space on their cogs. Internet readers do not have a lot of time to read. Keep your blog to what's important.

2. EASY TO OPERATE: Cogs were easy to operate. Make your blog easy to update by using a simple format. Do not complicate your life.

3. CONSISTENT HIGH QUALITY: Small ships sailing away from the coast do not allow for navigation mistakes. Make sure to publish only texts of the highest quality in your blog.

4. NO DEAD WEIGHT: Invaders coming from the sea could not afford to carry any dead weight. Reduce your blog to the essential. Few people have time for the rest.

5. ALL THAT IS NECESSARY: The Normans carried with them everything they needed. Horses, weapons, warm clothes, and water. Make sure that your blog possesses everything that is absolutely necessary, such as your biographical details.

6. KEEP IT SIMPLE: Cogs could be built quickly due to their simple construction technique. How long does it take you to update your blog? Could you figure out a way to do it faster?

I am convinced that internet blogs are a growing cultural force. Will they ever replace traditional media? That's difficult to tell, but the fact is that the audience of TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines is progressively shrinking.

Let me state for the record that King Harold of England was probably right when he estimated that cogs were too small. His seafaring experience proved to him that cogs were too frail to invade a country and to take over a culture. Unfortunately for him, he forgot to tell the Normans.


[Image by Thai Jasmine under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]