Everything Old is New Again and Again and Again
If you're like myself, or my father or mother for that matter, you probably had a little red wagon
when you were a kid. It was probably called a "Radio Flyer". Did you every wonder why? What did
radio have to do with a child's wagon. As for flying, it actually never went much faster than you
could pull it.
So, why call it Radio Flyer? Well, immigrant Antonio Pasin, inventor of the little red wagon
formerly known as Model #18, needed something catchy and thoroughly modern sounding in a
name. The time was the 1920s, and the two truly hot technologies coming to commercial
prominence were radio broadcasting and manned flight.
Other immigrants, such as Marconi, Tesla, and Sarnoff, where making distant sounds, and not
inconsiderable money, appear out of thin air. People like
Lindbergh and Glenn Curtiss were finding some things to do with "aeroplanes", besides dropping
grenades ineffectually onto the farm fields of WWI Europe. They were setting records, zipping
across entire oceans in barely more than a day, and swiftly delivering mail across continents.
People turned out at country fairs, and paid good money, to see "Barn Stormers" perform
death-defying aerial magic. What name could have been more trendy and cool than Radio Flyer? It
even looks pretty good today as www.radioflyer.com!
Now, every generation since the dawn of the industrial revolution has stood somehow transfixed
by the latest technology to take off in the commercial market. At the dawn of television, the
public was treated to television programs with characters like Captain Video; a rocket pilot, not a
cameraman. A couple of generations before the renamed Model #18, writer Nathaniel Hawthorne
remarked, "Is it a fact- or have I dreamed it- that, by means of electricity, the world of matter
has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time? Rather, the
round globe is a vast head, a brain, instinct with intelligence!" He's referring, of course, to the
telegraph. The year was 1851.
Today, just about anything with a dot-com in its name is apt to predispose us to a favorable view
of it. Things cyber and virtual have become so trendy, the words have almost lost their original
meaning. In fact, the word cyber practically has no meaning! It's borrowed from the word
cybernetics, itself an adaption of the Greek word for a helmsman, kybernetes, and was coined by
mathematician Norbert Wiener. The year was 1948, well before the advent of the microchip, and
rose from Wiener's theories about the similarities between steering mechanisms for naval
torpedoes and human mental processes.
Everything has a history. No technology emerges into the world as though from the Void. A
company,technology or product with a name that contains dot-com, or for that matter, video,
radio, steam or steel, is no more or less likely to be excellent or useful than one with the word
ACME in it.
Steve Solomon, September 1999