Monday, November 8, 2010

two steps forward, one step back

let's get one thing straight. no one has ever said to
me, "hey, you know who always seem to be on the cutting edge of technology? you."

i was easily one of the last five people i know to get a cell phone (and that includes a slew of folks at least a decade younger than me), we didn't have internet access at my parents' house until i was in high school, and while my friends milked their parents for the newest video game craze every christmas during our childhood, mine could not be milked, so i saved some of my spending money from an eighth grade trip and some allowance and bought my own nintendo 64 only to promptly sell it to a friend's younger brother about a year later.

i even prefer to write with a pen and paper, though i fully realize that were i to write this blog with pen and paper it would a) not be a blog, b) take an immense amount of postage and stationery to deliver to you, the readers, and c) give you one less thing to read during your "breaks" from work. for all my slowness (you may read: unwillingness) to incorporate technology into my life, it is clear that certain changes are inevitable, even beneficial to life in the twenty-first century.

it is also clear that the more rural parts of our world have yet to incorporate the totality of twenty-first century technology. in some cases this happens willingly and in others it stems from being ignored by those of the urban persuasion.

where it happens willingly, it is surprisingly refreshing.

there's a man here in town who swears by his blackberry, a worn out and warped pocket notebook that holds all his contacts, upcoming meetings, and notes in a space smaller, cheaper, and a lot less radioactive than its electronic namesake.

the best source of local information remains the local paper, still available only in print form and only delivered weekly. that's right, one paper per week. on the brightside it's better than the deal my parents have in the mountains of north carolina. their paper prints monday, wednesday, and friday, but gets delivered tuesday, thursday, and friday. logic abounds.

people even use phonebooks, and not as paperweights or props for feats of strength. they actually use them to find numbers, because a lot of people in rural america still have something called a "land line."

whatever that is.

maybe the most endearing, though somewhat financially confusing, case of the willing indifference to technological advances is the use of the postal service for in-town correspondence. while no one this side of scrooge can complain about getting something in the mail that is not a bill, credit card application, or catalogue, it is mildly troubling to think someone went to the trouble to stamp a number of envelopes, hand them to the postmistress, and have her walk twelve feet to put them in everyone's post office box. at nearly 3 2/3 cents per foot, it doesn't seem like a great deal, but somehow it actually is.

however, where the failure to embrace technology happens out of omission, it's depressing at best.

the most recent episode of radio lab, reminded me that for the last two years, we've been living in unprecedented territory: more than half of all people in the world live in cities and not in rural communities. we now live in a decidedly urban world. instead of living in a world dominated by the minority who live in cities, we now live in a world dominated by a majority who call the "metro-area" home. while this is not news to anyone, it does pose some interesting questions. especially ones about how we get our news.

jon stewart said it well at the rally to restore sanity and/or fear when he remarked that the news media are based in cities across the nation and that they reflect back to americans a world that is not always true to every viewer's life experience. it's almost as if we live in one world all day and, if it turns out that we don't actually live at cnn, fox, or msnbc, we see a different one on the television when we come home.

in smaller cities and larger towns this might not necessarily be the case since the chances of having a reputable local news channel is greater, but out in the middle of nowhere where most folks rely on satellite tv which provides them with roughly 8 bravos, 9 discovery channels, 10 qvcs, and perhaps even a channel looping images of a partridge in a pear tree, local programming is virtually non-existent or inaccessible. (when it is accessible it's reminiscent of that attempt your high school made at doing the news: grainy, slightly entertaining, and less than informative.) so, the world that comes through the wire is in fact not reflective of the life lived by those of us in middle-of-nowhere america.

furthermore, great efforts like the one laptop per child program, led by nicholas negroponte, try to connect every child in the world living in a rural place with a laptop computer so that they can get up to speed with their more privileged, urban peers. every child, that is, except poor, undereducated ones in rural america. apparently, they aren't in need of catching up to those with more opportunities, especially those in their own country.

so while, it's refreshing to know that out here some folks still carry a pen and a notebook around, and prefer a face-to-face meeting to an email chain on a smartphone, it's only refreshing when we have the choice to remain several steps behind everyone else. there's little refreshing about being left several steps behind or kept out of the discussion entirely.

we all know what happens when we get left behind. we start listening for the loudest familiar noise, and when we hear it, we start following. and not because it's telling us the truth, but simply because its noise and it could lead us somewhere, despite the fact that while "somewhere" might be the nearest town, it might also be a campsite full of crazies smoking peyote and getting ready to drink some kool-aid under the spell of the snuggie.

photos from here, boone, and here.

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