Rochester, NY, and the Rise and Fall of Technology – courtesy of Geopolitical Futures

by Marilou Moursund on October 23, 2019

in Recommended Reading,Technology

We spend a lot of our time researching companies and trying to identify new technologies that are going to dominate their sector. I really enjoyed this piece by George Friedman of Geopolitical Futures. He writes about the history of the Erie Canal and the rise and fall of iconic companies like Eastman Kodak and Xerox. From the linked article:

I suspect that it was unimaginable to those who built the canal that it was but a temporary moment in American history, and that new technology, the railroad, would render it as obsolete as dial phones were made by cellphones. The psychology of technology glories in feeling superior to the past, yet finds it difficult to believe that all the innovations that appear so permanent will themselves pass away into a past that will be treated as an amusing irrelevancy. Their moment will end too. But then that is the strength of the United States. It is unsentimental about the past and believes that it is creating the future. It is doing so, but the creators will rarely get the glory. The Erie Canal and the technology that created it was over, and the past was neglected.

Rochester teaches more than one lesson on technology. In the 20th century, it became the capital of a transformative technology that I will call vision management. What humans had seen for all their history was something that was lost in faulty memory, or imperfectly reproduced by pen and ink. Rochester was the town where vision was tamed, captured and perfected. Three companies dominated the landscape. Eastman Kodak turned technology that had been known for decades into a consumer product by transforming the chemical nature of film and then the camera into something that became universal. Ordinary people could own what they had seen. Xerox allowed the easy mechanical reproduction of documents by capturing their image and implanting it on paper. Finally, Bausch & Lomb perfected the mass production of lenses with which to make glasses, and then contact lenses.

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