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IN PERSPECTIVE: Lingering ghosts

Mon, 03/31/2008 - 8:20pm
Brian Santo, Editor

Today, a company can earn respect for innovation, skill, or acumen,
but companies are no longer admired as paragons of Yankee know-how,
repositories of the can-do spirit,
 or the vehicles of Progress

Intel draws respect. Apple commands loyalty. But once upon a time, U.S. technology corporations actually inspired pride.

Brian SantoAmericans were proud that RCA and General Electric and Motorola provided the electrical and electronic appurtenances of modern life, that Kodak brought photography to the masses, Fairchild Semiconductor helped usher in the semiconductor era, IBM led the way in computing, and AT&T wired the world and maintained the once inestimable Bell Labs.

These companies all still exist, in varying states of health, but none retain the reverence once accorded them. (RCA is now owned by a French company, Thomson, which coincidentally was also founded in the U.S.)

Today, a company can earn respect for innovation, skill, or acumen, but companies are no longer admired as paragons of Yankee know-how, repositories of the can-do spirit, or the vehicles of Progress. They are just commercial enterprises.

We’ve changed, too. We’ve come to expect near-magical wonders that might have awed us had they been introduced only a generation ago. We’re also a bit more cynical, having seen Worldcom and Enron and other large companies tarnished and ruined by people who valued little beyond their own cleverness.

So it merits notice when the name of a company that once elicited pride is retired. The Scientific-Atlanta name is now gone, joining General Instrument, Digital Equipment, Control Data Corp., Western Electric, the Victor Talking Machine Co., and Westinghouse (resurrected, to little effect), and others that once were synonymous with American ingenuity.

Fascinatingly, the names of some of those grand old companies, those that managed to make it into the Web era before being subsumed, live on in vestigial URLs. These are maintained for no obvious reason, but perhaps in deference to those like me who – sometimes from reflexive absent-mindedness, sometimes on a whim – type into our browsers www.gi.com or www.sciatl.com.

brian.santo@advantagemedia.com

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