AT&T skeletons from 1930

In a story that sounds like it came from a Hollywood movie script, Tim Wu’s new book The Master Switch discloses one of the secrets AT&T did not want the world to have. Its an interesting story in applied paranoia that large corporations are often very good at. We love telecom for it’s paranoid nature and it’s rationalization of any decision—but was this really smart or really stupid?

What seems almost incredible in hindsight, it seems AT&T invented magnetic tape in the 1930’s, only to rationalize why letting it loose on an unsuspecting world would collapse the telecom industry. Funny how some very sober thinkers could create logical reasoning, flawed as it was, that would stop the invention from getting to the world for decades.

In analyzing the decisions that AT&T came to under these action Wu opines;

This is the essential weakness of a centralized approach to innovation: the notion that it can be a planned and systematic process, best directed by a kind of central intelligence; that it is simply of matter of assembling all the best minds and putting them to work in unison. Were it so, the future could be planned and executed in a scientific manner.

We tend to agree with his analysis and his book makes an interesting read. Here’s a short excerpt from that section.

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