Can cable get smart?

Fri, 09/18/2009 - 12:02pm
Brian Santo

Now this is more like it.

Light and deft, and technology is represented by a human who actually had something to do with the technology. This is something we should see more of.

Corporations are constructs, inhuman in almost every sense of the word, but that obscures the fact that these constructs are vehicles for people to accomplish shared goals.

Ajay BhattPeople respond to people, not to legal entities, not to widgets, the CrackBerry phenomenon notwithstanding – that thing is about connecting to other people. Nobody’s addicted to their Cuisinart or their Poulan chainsaw. ... But I digress.

So there’s got to be some good in reminding the public that there’s some humanity behind the brand. I don’t think any customer is loyal to Intel because Intel is inside, or to AT&T because its death star logo is always the same shade of blue, or to Cox because its user interface in Las Vegas is the same as its UI in New Orleans.

Maybe that stuff helps, but it can’t compensate for a bad product or a bad experience with an employee, and it can’t substitute for a good product or a good experience with an employee.

So why not put some employees upfront from time to time? And engineers and code jockeys and other scientists and technicians are good candidates.

While I’ve come to hate the term “role model” almost as much as I hate the word “branding” – both get overused and misused – both have solid concepts behind them. And there aren’t nearly enough role models in American industry.

The thing is: How can someone decide to become a computer scientist, or a communications engineer, or a technologist of any sort if he or she has never seen one? (An almost pure example is the girl in Tajikistan cited by Jim Anderson in a previous blog about Connect the World).

It can happen without role models; it just a little less likely.

What to do about it? Part of the answer is that every once in a while, technology companies could benefit themselves, and maybe society at large, by putting their engineers on public display, as Intel did with that commercial (let’s ignore, for the moment, that the guy in the Intel ad is an actor).

Heaven knows we can stand more good examples of people who got an education and used it.

While I adore Bruce Springsteen, I cringe when I hear him sing “... we learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school.”

And that’s a common theme in our culture, from Paul Simon (“... when I think back on all the crap I learned in high school.”) to the popularity of fictional icons like Bart Simpson to George Bush, who didn’t just acknowledge being a C student but frequently bragged about it.

Not all of us are geniuses. Not all of us have the aptitude to be scientists and engineers. Whenever I interview someone for CED, I am rarely, if ever, the smartest person in the conversation. The point being that after more than a quarter-century of talking to engineers, I’ve gained a fuller appreciation for education and for what people can do with it.

There’s a fundamental difference between making the best with what you’ve got and deliberate ignorance, and far too often our culture opts for deliberate ignorance. In my book, there are few personal sins worse than choosing not to learn, opting to turn off your brain, electing to be ignorant.

We can only benefit from counterbalancing that. So while it’s great to recognize our achievements among each other at Cable-Tec Expo with the Pacesetter Awards or by electing them to the Cable Hall of Fame, maybe we ought to consider some truly public recognition (like that Intel ad) of some of the engineers who helped develop the cable modem or VOD or a nifty program guide or EBIF or VoIP or ...

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