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Corporate-Speak Fields of Dreams
By Paul Schersten

Don't get me wrong. I grieve about commercialization and loss of tradition. But we've had corporate ballpark names for a long time. Wrigley Field is a corporate name. And as long as a name stays the same thing for a while, and isn't just sold from year to year like some cheap pass-around, I'm not that annoyed by the selling itself.

But there's something weird about this current crop of names, dating to at least 1995. That's when we were all instructed that henceforth we should refer to San Francisco's old Candlestick Park as 3Com Park.

You know—numeral 3, syllable com, park. Naturally, most of us refused. In fact, I remember one sportswriter out there began filing his stories from "Stupid Name Park."

But it didn't help, and now look what we've got: Enron in Houston, Safeco in Seattle, Comerica in Detroit, Cinergy spelled wrong in Cincinnati, out in San Diego something called Qualcomm—every one of them a really stupid name for a ballpark. And the reason they're so stupid is simple: they're even worse names for corporations.

Remember the old days? Ford. United States Steel. International Business Machines. Standard Oil. Those were names you could take to the bank—like, you know, the Bank of America, for example.

Now, corporations have forgotten how to talk. They speak a version of ugly. Qualcomm. Enron. Transtech, Sysmex, Invesco. Ubank, Altera, Nextel, Xilinx.

And, of course, Microsoft. Sort of sounds like a real word. But then break it down.

"Tiny" and "not hard." What is Bill Gates telling us? Difficult to say. But it provides a nice segue to my main point, which is this: our whole economy is getting weenier.

The old names were muscular and confident. They say: We make steel. We build railroads. We're bankers. We're named after our founder. We are important. We know what we do, and we leave no doubt. It wasn't just the huge firms, either. For decades my grandfather worked for an outfit called the Chicago Paper Company. Located in Chicago, the Chicago Paper Company made paper.

The new names are vague. They're invented by people obsessed with facilitating data flow, promoting teamwork, processing change—men and women who have a jittery, uptight preoccupation with flexibility and impermanence.

Integra, Norlight, Accenture; hey—pick a word!

Now if this were an epidemic of bad names and bad names only, that would be one thing. We could boycott—organize and go elsewhere for our enrons and our quals. But the problem is much, much deeper than that.

Our products are getting blurry and our jobs are getting stupid, too. We don't make things; we support the supporting of the making of things—things that are usually, in fact, not even things. So we are LAN technicians and VARs, and we are ISO-9001 certified, and we work in teams trying to maximize everybody else's core competencies.

Oh, we're busy. Since the actual tasks of what we do are in fact almost nothing, we're expected to do a lot of it, and more all the time. How else can we grow? Productivity! Efficiency! Do a lot of nothing fast!

That's the thing about these companies that bugs me the most: the universal pose of high-speed efficiency. That's not how I like to live. Do a lot of nothing slow—that's much closer to my philosophy. Come to think of it, that's why I like baseball. And I don't want these stupid corporations and their even stupider names imposed on my relaxing little game.

So here's my advice to these companies: remove your names from our ballparks. And hey, while you're at it, slow down, lighten up, and change your names back to real words. Maintain that behavior for ninety days. Then we'll talk again.


Working as "Paul Chaplin," PAUL SCHERSTEN was for many years a writer and performer on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This piece originally aired as a commentary on NPR's All Things Considered.

© 2001 Paul Schersten


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