FTW.46 Multi-tasking: Submarine Sonar vs. Algebra

Fatherhood in a Technological World – Message #46

It’s hard enough to get children to focus, so when there is this plethora of electronic gadgets added to their environment they invariably are tempted to play along with their peers which results in involuntary multitasking. I say involuntary because if these young people had enough ability to reason, they would understand that watching TV, following their text messages and watching You-Tube video while they are supposed to be doing their Algebra homework is a formula for valueless stupidity.

However, in regards to multitasking, there are situations and professions that capitalize on a person’s ability to multitask, so multitasking per say, is not a bad thing. If your multi-tasking is mission-oriented, where every avenue of information or stream of data is used to assess a solve a specific problem, then that’s valuable, necessary and often critical in the right circumstance.


Multi-tasking Profession: Submarine Sonar

The military offers several good examples of professional who must multitask with a mission focus. The job of a sonar operator and the sonar supervisor onboard a submarine fall squarely into this category. When I was in the service, Sonar Supervisor was rated as one of the top three most stressful occupations, along with Air Traffic Controller and something else.


This is the “sonar shack” on an older Los Angeles Class U.S. Navy submarine with two of my sonar technician shipmates, Bill D’Happart and Jeff Marcey, taking a short break in port. Underway, the area is dimly lit with a cool blue lights illuminating a team of intensely focused sonar operators and a supervisor responsible for the safety of the submarine. Photo 1983.

Sonar operations on a submarine are significantly more complex and mission critical compared to their surface ship counterparts. Simply put, underwater, where a submarine must operate, you can’t see without sonar; whereas, sonar on a surface ship is treated more like an accessory that does not need to operate continuously except for certain navigation equipment for ship’s safety.

Back in World War II, submarines had one sonarman operating one sonar hydrophone. One sailor running a sonar shack is long past and was also a technical mistake in the movie “The Hunt for Red October.” Being his first submarine book, somehow that got by Tom Clancy or his films advisors.

Modern sonar operators are trained to work as a team, often 4 or more at a time, with several navigation, search, detection, and classification systems that can be used keep track of multiple contacts in surface, subsurface and even air contacts, so you can imagine how much more challenging the multitasking is on a modern submarine and the requirements for a supervisor. Moreover, sonar operators have to maintain good documents and logs (running records), and make drink runs to the crews mess that can give a barmaid at an Oktoberfest in Munich a run for her money.

US Navy. Image source: google.com

US Navy. Image source: google.com

Take all of that and add a torpedo or other weapon in the water and a close aboard contact and you’ve got a bonafide Fourth or July party and things are sizzling, the sweat pumps are on high speed. The lives of over 100 crew members, an awfully expensive piece of Navy property, national security, and political leverage are at the mercy of your good or poor judgment.

That might just be enough stress to cause your sonar chief to eat powdered hot cocoa straight out of the pouch without adding water or go through several packs of Marlboros, back when smoking was still politically a non-issue.

As a result, you have some of the tightest group of shipmates, including the Captain and officers, that you will ever see on any unit in the military. They work hard and play hard.

At last, what does this have to do with your child’s ability to finish his or her homework without getting grounded for a week for not focusing on homework? The answer is everything and nothing. Children need help to manage their time and to focus on individual tasks and when they must multitask, all data inputs must collaborate to succeed in a goal or a mission. Your job as a parent is to help guide them and help them understand this reality by day to day busting their rears and building relationship at the same time, so by the time they have to fend for themselves in a real work environment, they are productive, and not wasting their time being distracted by useless garbage.





About Fatherhood in a Technological World

Fathers of young children in today’s modern society are facing unprecedented challenges with the wave of technology allowing ever easier access to the internet. The effect on your children has and will have a great influence on their growth. As a parent, you may be feeling the anxiety of having to confront the challenges of being at the end of the rail of the powerful forces driving technology into the laps and hands of your children.

Your work is cut out for you are a father. Even though popular culture doesn’t do well to herald the value of the leadership role of men in the form of fathers, let me tell you right now, being a father in this time and age has never been more important.

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