Lighthouses Becoming Obsolete Due To Geolocation Technology

by Chris Silver Smith

I was interested to see in the New York Times this weekend that lighthouses and lighthouse keepers are becoming obsolete, in large part due to geolocation technology, such as GPS equipment on ships (probably due to cheaper radars, too).

It’s sort of sad to see an entire, specialized discipline and its iconic structures abruptly made unnecessary in this way, just from technological disruption. (I’ve written before about how rare bookstores and indie book shops are becoming obsolete, too, in “The Internet is Killing Independent Bookstores“.) For some reason, the idea of lighthouses becoming decommissioned so rapidly seems particularly sad, perhaps because they’ve been such a fixture of many coasts around the world for so long — centuries, if not millenia. There are many stories of the heroic efforts of lighthouse keepers who toiled to insure that the lights would stay lit despite all sorts of environmental and logistic challenges, and many of them even lost their lives in the process.

Santa Cruz Light House


According to the article, the U.S. Government is decommissioning many lighthouses and offering them up at auction with nonprofit, preservationist organizations getting first crack at them. However, others are getting snapped up for the purpose of conversion into private homes or for commercial purposes, such as to house bed-and-breakfasts.

I think in normal times that virtually all of these would have gone to nonprofit groups as historical landmarks, but the pressures on the economy for the past few years have impacted the ability of nonprofit groups to be able to make such large purchases that require significant ongoing upkeep expense.

One question I have is whether all sorts of businesses and organizations associated with the concept of “lighthouse” will suffer from an evaporation of consumer understanding as lighthouses themselves become obsolete — will they suffer from brand name erosion? (See also: “Is ‘Yellow Pages’ Becoming An Obsolete Concept?“)

For instance, The Watchtower, well-known periodical published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, has long used lighthouse iconography, and these lighthouse images are somewhat associated with their name. (Sure, a “watchtower” is more of a fortification tower, built to watch for invasions, but quite a number of them were simultaneously also lighthouses, and it’s this dual meaning that seems to be what the Jehovah’s Witnesses leveraged so long.) Also, I’ve seen lighthouses used with seafood restaurants, storage units, and more.

I wonder if these businesses and organizations really don’t need to update their branding. I don’t see any stores named “Victrola” to market to home audio systems, for instance.


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2 Responses to “Lighthouses Becoming Obsolete Due To Geolocation Technology”

  1. Chris,

    I use a lighthouse image on my business site for Searchlight Marketing. Lighthouses to me are iconic; I can’t see myself replacing that image. What do you think, since I’m redesigning my site?

  2. Silver says:

    Nicolette, I actually think that lighthouses are so iconic that their meaning and symbolic associations are not going to degrade all that rapidly. Most people in the 30-year-old-and-higher age range will know what a lighthouse is when they see it, and those people will be core consumers of marketing services for a long while yet. Further, the “Searchlight” name is pretty self-descriptive as well, so even if you had someone who didn’t know what a lighthouse was, the name associated with a tower that has a beam of light coming out is likely to understand the function of the structure.

    “Lighthouse” as a term is going to fade, but not as rapidly as “Yellow Pages” appears to be doing.

    I don’t think you need to ditch the icon anytime soon for your use and for your target demographics.