Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Modest Proposal…


I've been blogging recently about where tech collides with politics, society, commerce and culture. Yesterday, it occurred to me that I could could localize this stuff to be of particular interest to folks in Northampton, MA and the Pioneer Valley, as I tell simple stories of how tech hit the streets, worked its way into business, and entered our homes in the past, and continues to do so today. Some of the topics that immediately occurred to me are:
  • Why are the only industries remaining in the Pioneer Valley, once the Silicon Valley of the first Industrial Age, light metal machining, arms manufacturing, specialty plastic fasteners, and agricultural chemicals?
  • Why do we call a monkey wrench a monkey wrench? Clue: it has everything to do with the Valley, and nothing to do with monkeys.
  • How did William Pynchon, Springfield, MA's founder, pull off one of the great swindles of early British colonialism in America by using ancient technology to drain a swamp in what became Springfield's north end. And, where did the natives that he swindled go?
  • How and why was Florence, MA chosen as the home to a utopian community and worker owned textile mills?
  • Why did Rolls Royce choose this region to build their vehicles outside the UK?
  • And, why is the Valley a rare hotbed of enthusiasm for NASCAR in the Northeast?
  • What are so many sensible but poor Hispanics doing in New England the Valley when they could be just as disadvantaged in someplace warm by coral beaches? Clue #2: It has to do with bombs and those agricultural chemicals.
  • How did Victorian Era ladies help build the telephone industry in Greenfield, circa 1910?
  • Did Mark Twain finance and own the world's first word processor while living in the region in the late 19th Century?
  • How do Northampton's Web development companies stay afloat, even prosper with an international clientel, in the face of competition from 'Net and telecom giants, cloud-based freeware, and industry consolidation?
  • Why was fiber-optic tech invented in the region at the dawn of the Internet and telecommunications revolution, but never commercialized by its inventor? How did Quaker Oats figure in this story?
So I'm pitching these ideas for an occasional column at Northampton Media, an excellent local news portal whose reporters and editors typically hustle harder and outperform their colleagues in regional print, television and radio. We'll see what happens.