Silence please

I observed my moment of silence on Tuesday.

It seemed ridiculous, as people were jumping or falling out of windows at the World Trade Center, to start pontificating about the latest developments in the technology industry. Even now, I feel compelled to bring it up in unrelated editorials, just to make clear that I recognize the context in which we will look at things in the coming months. So much that interests me about the IT market became completely inconsequential that day. We weren’t even sure if we should publish at all.

In the end, we offered the only coverage I thought was appropriate — a story about Networld + Intertop shutting down, for example, and the affect of the news on the opening of IBM’s much-anticipated laboratory in Toronto. This was what we knew about the impact of the terrorist attacks on the industry. That’s where our coverage stops.

Sadly, others in the industry have already seized upon the recent events as a potential opportunity to market themselves.

On Friday, Computer Associates announced through a press release the creation of the New York Kids in Need fund for children who lost a parent in Tuesday’s tragedy with $2 million to get things rolling. IBM and Microsoft took the more traditional route of donating US$5 million apiece to established charities like the United Way and The New York Community Trust.

It’s a lot of money — and will be no doubt be much appreciated by those who need it. But while it may not be fair to judge the generosity (or lack thereof) from these IT giants, the terrorist attacks do force us to consider the appropriate response by these sorts of organizations.

Do these gestures demonstrate leadership during a moment of national crisis? Maybe. Do we look to IBM, Microsoft, Computer Associates or other such organizations for this leadership? I don’t.

I also don’t think it’s cynical to suggest that on some level, there is a self-consciousness to the IT companies’ charitable activities. Certainly it invests their brands with some family imagery (“We’re a company that cares!” “We are here for you!”) and was obviously thought-out beforehand. Press releases, such as those distributed by these vendors, are designed to attract attention. Maybe the contact names listed at the top of the release are supposed to induce me to call them, listen to them offer their sympathies and their commitment to helping out those in need. It may not sound very nice, but I’m not going to give them that forum.

It could be argued that some degree of marketing is necessary to advertise ways that other companies and individuals can add to the various relief funds. And it is, but it doesn’t have to go under their corporate banners.

These are companies that spend a lot of time talking about the importance of strategic partnerships between suppliers and customers, resellers and distributors. There are enough public charitable organizations that would welcome the money and marketing support of large high-tech companies — organizations that have experience and credibility but which could use a behind-the-scenes boost. The money and the help could do just as much good without asking us to notice the sponsors.

A colleague of mine said that true charity does not expect attention or congratulations. I can’t say it any better than that. These companies hold considerable power to help change things for the better. Now is not the time to raise your profile. We’ve got enough on our minds.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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