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robertogreco : midwest   5

Matt Haughey on Twitter: "My favorite grad school geography/history tidbit came from a Soils professor that worked around mining. It goes like this: In the American West and Midwest you can tell who settled a city by how it looks on a map. Let me explain
"My favorite grad school geography/history tidbit came from a Soils professor that worked around mining. It goes like this: In the American West and Midwest you can tell who settled a city by how it looks on a map. Let me explain…

A town settled by miners or lumberjacks is interested in making money FAST. Roads go from mountains to town centers where the sawmill or assay office is. Adding switchbacks takes too much time & money. On maps, these cities typically follow a star pattern from above.

Farmers have time. Crops follow seasons, year after year, over decades. Making money is slow. Their cities follow grid patterns where the streets are 1st, 2nd, 3rd going one direction and A Street, B Street, C Street the other. On maps, farmer towns look like logical squares.

Here are two towns in South Dakota: one settled by farmers, one by miners. Spot the difference.

From now on, whenever you look at a map of the American West, you’ll know something about each town’s history in an instant.:"
matthaughey  geography  cities  towns  architecture  culture  design  environment  history  farming  time  mining  lumber  speed  money  americanwest  maps  mapping  patterns  midwest  settlement 
june 2018 by robertogreco
Of Thee I Read: The United States in Literature - The New York Times
"Reporters and editors on the National Desk of The New York Times were asked to suggest books that a visitor ought to read to truly understand the American cities and regions where they live, work and travel.

There were no restrictions — novels, memoirs, histories and children’s books were fair game. Here are some selections.

Recommend a book that captures something special about where you live in the comments, or on Twitter with the hashtag #natbooks."
us  literature  geography  2016  books  booklists  losangeles  california  thesouth  pacificnorthwest  seattle  cascadia  southwest  midwest  boston  neworleans  nola  maine 
august 2016 by robertogreco
On technology, culture, and growing up in a small town
"Rex Sorgatz grew up in a small and isolated town (physically, culturally) in North Dakota named Napoleon.
Out on the prairie, pop culture existed only in the vaguest sense. Not only did I never hear the Talking Heads or Public Enemy or The Cure, I could never have heard of them. With a radio receiver only able to catch a couple FM stations, cranking out classic rock, AC/DC to Aerosmith, the music counterculture of the '80s would have been a different universe to me. (The edgiest band I heard in high school was The Cars. "My Best Friend's Girl" was my avant-garde.)

Is this portrait sufficiently remote? Perhaps one more stat: I didn't meet a black person until I was 16, at a summer basketball camp. I didn't meet a Jewish person until I was 18, in college.

This was the Deep Midwest in the 1980s. I was a pretty clueless kid.

He recently returned there and found that the physical isolation hasn't changed, but thanks to the internet, the kids now have access to the full range of cultural activities and ideas from all over the world.
"Basically, this story is a controlled experiment," I continue. "Napoleon is a place that has remained static for decades. The economics, demographics, politics, and geography are the same as when I lived here. In the past twenty-five years, only one thing has changed: technology."

Rex is a friend and nearly every time we get together, we end up talking about our respective small town upbringings and how we both somehow managed to escape. My experience wasn't quite as isolated as Rex's -- I lived on a farm until I was 9 but then moved to a small town of 2500 people; plus my dad flew all over the place and the Twin Cities were 90 minutes away by car -- but was similar in many ways. The photo from his piece of the rusted-out orange car buried in the snow could have been taken in the backyard of the house I grew up in, where my dad still lives. Kids listened to country, top 40, or heavy metal music. I didn't see Star Wars or Empire in a theater. No cable TV until I was 14 or 15. No AP classes until I was a senior. Aside from a few Hispanics and a family from India, everyone was white and Protestant. The FFA was huge in my school. I had no idea about rap music or modernism or design or philosophy or Andy Warhol or 70s film or atheism. I didn't know what I didn't know and had very little way of finding out.

I didn't even know I should leave. But somehow I got out. I don't know about Rex, but "escape" is how I think of it. I was lucky enough to excel at high school and got interest from schools from all over the place. My dad urged me to go to college...I was thinking about getting a job (probably farming or factory work) or joining the Navy with a friend. That's how clueless I was...I knew so little about the world that I didn't know who I was in relation to it. My adjacent possible just didn't include college even though it was the best place for a kid like me.

In college in an Iowan city of 110,000, I slowly discovered what I'd been missing. Turns out, I was a city kid who just happened to grow up in a small town. I met other people from all over the country and, in time, from all over the world. My roommate sophomore year was black.1 I learned about techno music and programming and photography and art and classical music and LGBT and then the internet showed up and it was game over. I ate it all up and never got full. And like Rex:

Napoleon had no school newspaper, and minimal access to outside media, so I had no conception of "the publishing process." Pitching an idea, assigning a story, editing and rewriting -- all of that would have baffled me. I had only ever seen a couple of newspapers and a handful of magazines, and none offered a window into its production. (If asked, I would have been unsure if writers were even paid, which now seems prescient.) Without training or access, but a vague desire to participate, boredom would prove my only edge. While listlessly paging through the same few magazines over and over, I eventually discovered a semi-concealed backdoor for sneaking words onto the hallowed pages of print publications: user-generated content.

That's the ghastly term we use (or avoid using) today for non-professional writing submitted by readers. What was once a letter to the editor has become a comment; editorials, now posts. The basic unit persists, but the quantity and facility have matured. Unlike that conspicuous "What's on your mind?" input box atop Facebook, newspapers and magazines concealed interaction with readers, reluctant of the opinions of randos. But if you were diligent enough to find the mailing address, often sequestered deep in the back pages, you could submit letters of opinion and other ephemera.
I eventually found the desire to express myself. Using a copy of Aldus PhotoStyler I had gotten from who knows where, I designed party flyers for DJ friends' parties. I published a one-sheet periodical for the residents of my dorm floor, to be read in the bathroom. I made meme-y posters2 which I hung around the physics department. I built a homepage that just lived on my hard drive because our school didn't offer web hosting space and I couldn't figure out how to get an account elsewhere.3 Well, you know how that last bit turned out, eventually.4"
jasonkottke  kottke  rexsorgatz  2016  rural  internet  web  isolation  connectivity  change  subcultures  media  culture  childhood  youth  teens  socialmedia  college  education  universities  highered  highereducation  midwest  cv  music  film  television  tv  cable  cabletv  cosmopolitanism  worldliness  urban  urbanism  interneturbanism  1980s  northdakota  minnesota  homogeneity  diversity  apclasses  aps  religion  ethnicity  race  exposure  facebook 
april 2016 by robertogreco
Has the Internet Really Changed Everything? — Backchannel
[See also: http://kottke.org/16/04/on-technology-culture-and-growing-up-in-a-small-town ]

"How have decades of mass media and technology changed us? A writer returns to his remote hometown — once isolated, now connected. And finds unexpected answers."



"In the Napoleon of the 1980s, where I memorized the alphabet and mangled my first kiss, distractions were few. There were no malls to loiter, no drags to cruise. With no newsstand or bookstore, information was sparse. The only source of outside knowledge was the high school library, a room the size of a modest apartment, which had subscriptions to exactly five magazines: Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, and People. As a teenager, these five magazines were my only connection to the outside world.

Of course, there was no internet yet. Cable television was available to blessed souls in far-off cities, or so we heard, but it did not arrive in Napoleon until my teens, and even then, in a miniaturized grid of 12 UHF channels. (The coax would transmit oddities like WGN and CBN, but not cultural staples like HBO or Nickelodeon. I wanted my MTV in vain.) Before that, only the staticky reception of the big three — ABC, CBS, NBC — arrived via a tangle of rabbit ears. By the time the PBS tower boosted its broadcast reach to Napoleon, I was too old to enjoy Sesame Street.

Out on the prairie, pop culture existed only in the vaguest sense. Not only did I never hear the Talking Heads or Public Enemy or The Cure, I could never have heard of them. With a radio receiver only able to catch a couple FM stations, cranking out classic rock, AC/DC to Aerosmith, the music counterculture of the ’80s would have been a different universe to me. (The edgiest band I heard in high school was The Cars. “My Best Friend’s Girl” was my avant-garde.)

Is this portrait sufficiently remote? Perhaps one more stat: I didn’t meet a black person until I was 16, at a summer basketball camp. I didn’t meet a Jewish person until I was 18, in college.

This was the Deep Midwest in the 1980s. I was a pretty clueless kid."



"“Basically, this story is a controlled experiment,” I continue. “Napoleon is a place that has remained static for decades. The economics, demographics, politics, and geography are the same as when I lived here. In the past twenty-five years, only one thing has changed: technology.”

Photog2 begins to fiddle with an unlit Camel Light, which he clearly wants to go smoke, even if it is 8 degrees below zero outside. But I am finding the rhythm of my pitch.

“All scientific experiments require two conditions: a static environment and a control — a testable variable that changes. Napoleon is the static environment; technology, the control. With all else being equal, this place is the perfect environment to explore societal questions like, What are the effects of mass communications? How has technology transformed the way we form ideas? Does access to information alone make us smarter?”

“How am I supposed to photograph that?” asks Photog2."



"As we discuss other apps on his home screen — YouTube, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo — I realize that my line of questions are really just attempts to prove or disprove a sentence that I read on the flight to Dakota. The sentence appears on page 20 of Danah Boyd’s book, It’s Complicated, a study of the social lives of networked teens:
What the drive-in was to teens in the 1950s and the mall was in the 1980s, Facebook, texting, Twitter, instant messaging, and other social media are to teens now.

I cannot shake the sentence, which seems to contain between its simple words a secret key, a cipher to crack my inquiries into technology and change. Napoleon didn’t have a drive-in in the 1950s, or a mall in the 1980s, but today it definitely has the same social communications tools used by every kid in the country. By that fact alone, the lives of teenagers in Napoleon must be wildly different than they were 20 years ago. But I lack the social research finesse of Boyd, who could probably interrogate my thesis about technology beyond anecdote. So I change the topic to something I know much better: television."



"Whether with sanguine fondness or sallow regret, all writers remember their first publishing experience — that moment when an unseen audience of undifferentiated proportion absorbs their words from unknown locales.
I remember my first three.

Napoleon had no school newspaper, and minimal access to outside media, so I had no conception of “the publishing process.” Pitching an idea, assigning a story, editing and rewriting — all of that would have baffled me. I had only ever seen a couple of newspapers and a handful of magazines, and none offered a window into its production. (If asked, I would have been unsure if writers were even paid, which now seems prescient.) Without training or access, but a vague desire to participate, boredom would prove my only edge. While listlessly paging through the same few magazines over and over, I eventually discovered a semi-concealed backdoor for sneaking words onto the hallowed pages of print publications: user-generated content.

That’s the ghastly term we use (or avoid using) today for non-professional writing submitted by readers. What was once a letter to the editor has become a comment; editorials, now posts. The basic unit persists, but the quantity and facility have matured. Unlike that conspicuous “What’s on your mind?” input box atop Facebook, newspapers and magazines concealed interaction with readers, reluctant of the opinions of randos. But if you were diligent enough to find the mailing address, often sequestered deep in the back pages, you could submit letters of opinion and other ephemera.

This was publishing to me. My collected works were UGC."



"“What are your favorite apps?”

This time my corny question is fielded by Katelyn, another student who my mother suggests will make a good subject for my harebrained experiment. During her study hall break, we discuss the hectic life of a millennial teenager on the plains. She is already taking college-level courses, lettering in three varsity sports, and the president of the local FFA chapter. (That’s Future Farmers of America, an agricultural youth organization with highly competitive livestock judging and grain grading contests. It’s actually a huge deal in deep rural America, bigger than the Boy and Girl Scouts. Katelyn won the state competition in Farm Business Management category.)

To the app question, she recites the universals of any contemporary young woman: Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest. She mentions The Skimm as a daily news source, which is intriguing, but not as provocative as her next remark: “I don’t have Facebook.”

Whoa, why?

“My parents don’t support social media,” says the 18-year-old. “They didn’t want me to get Facebook when I was younger, so I just never signed up.” This is closer to the isolationist Napoleon that I remember. They might not ban books anymore, but parents can still be very protective.

“How do you survive without Facebook?” I ask. “Do you wish you had it?”

“I go back and forth,” she avers. “It would be easier to connect with people I’ve met through FFA and sports. But I’m also glad I don’t have it, because it’s time-consuming and there’s drama over it.”

She talks like a 35-year-old. So I ask who she will vote for.

“I’m not sure. I like how Bernie Sanders is sounding.”

I tell her a story about a moment in my junior civics class where the teacher asked everyone who was Republican to raise their hand. Twenty-five kids lifted their palms to the sky. The remaining two students called themselves Independents. “My school either had zero Democrats or a few closeted ones,” I conclude.

She is indifferent to my anecdote, so I change the topic to music.

“I listen to older country,” she says. “Garth Brooks, George Strait.” The term “older country” amuses me, but I resist the urge to ask her opinion of Jimmie Rodgers. “I’m not a big fan of hardcore rap or heavy metal,” she continues. “I don’t understand heavy metal. I don’t know why you would want to listen to it.”

So no interest in driving three hours in the snow to see AC/DC at the Fargodome last night?

“No, I just watched a couple Snapchat stories of it.”

Of course she did.

While we talk, a scratchy announcement is broadcast over the school-wide intercom. A raffle drawing ticket is being randomly selected. I hear Jaden’s name announced as the winner of the gigantic teddy bear in my mother’s office.
I ask Katelyn what novel she read as a sophomore, the class year that The Catcher in the Rye was banned from my school. When she says Fahrenheit 451, I feel like the universe has realigned for me in some cosmic perfection.

But my time is running out, and again I begin to wonder whether she is proving or disproving my theories of media and technology. It’s difficult to compare her life to mine at that age. Katelyn is undoubtedly more focused and mature than any teenager I knew in the ’80s, but this is the stereotype of all millennials today. Despite her many accomplishments, she seems to suppress the hallmark characteristic of her ambitious generation: fanatic self-regard. Finally, I ask her what she thinks her life will be like in 25 years.

“I hope I’ll be married, and probably have kids,” she says decisively. “I see myself in a rural area. Maybe a little bit closer to Bismarck or Fargo. But I’m definitely in North Dakota.”

I tell her that Jaden gave essentially the same answer to the question. Why do you think that is?

“The sense of a small community,” she says, using that word again. “Everyone knows each other. It’s a big family.”"
internet  technology  rexsorgatz  2016  isolation  cv  web  online  culture  distraction  media  film  music  quietude  publishing  writing  worldliness  rural  howwelive  thenandnow  change  community  smalltowns  schools  education  journalism  books  censorship  fahrenheit451  raybradbury  thecatcherintherye  jdsalinger  newspapers  communication  socialmedia  snapchat  facebook  instagram  pinterest  theskimm  news  danahboyd  youtube  ebay  yahoo  twitter  videogames  gaming  subcultures  netflix  teens  youth  connectivity  childhood  college  universities  highered  highereducation  midwest  television  tv  cable  cabletv  cosmopolitanism  urban  urbanism  interneturbanism  1980s  northdakota  homogeneity  diversity  apclasses  aps  religion  ethnicity  race  exposure 
april 2016 by robertogreco
The Commonspace > June 2004 > Expatriates
"There are, as far as I have been able to discover, three cities in the world that share the name Saint Louis: the dilapidated colonial ruins on an island off the northern coast of Brazil, in the state of Maranhão; our sister city — the dilapidated colonial ruins on a fluvial island near the edge of the Sahara desert, in Senegal; and ours, the dilapidated colonial ruins that lie along the banks of the Mississippi. All once great. All once golden. Today, all lie in ruin.

I love our ruin. I have to. I am a product of that ruin, for better or for worse. To me, the ruins are completely surreal. They exist on a different physical plane, in a different time. Monuments to Indian burial mounds. Tenement complexes overgrown with vines. Vast expanses of natural grasses, where entire blocks once stood. Snoots and tips. Blues, jazz, and soul being played to almost empty clubs. Arson.

I have always suffered ridicule for being from Saint Louis, especially from East coasters who are fond of making comments like, "If you are not living in New York you are just camping out." But I know that Saint Louis, along with Memphis and New Orleans — the crowning gems of the American Nile — form the true cradle of American culture. We are the cultural standard-bearers of the nation, despite the fact the little credit is ever given, and despite the fact that Saint Louisans themselves rarely do their part to improve our image.

I should clarify that Saint Louis to me is just the part east of Skinker. The suburbs, the sprawl, and the people that contribute to them, are my real enemies. I think we ought to build a Great Wall around the City and charge toll for the suburbanites to visit the Arch, the stadium, the zoo, the museums, the parks, and the other marvelous public resources the City offers for free to all. Let's see where the suburbanites will draw their inspiration and cultural identities from when their access has been cut off. When I lived in Saint Louis I made a vow never to stray west of Skinker, on principle.

I have lived in Brazil for many years now, because I found that I am freer in Brazil than in the USA. Free of the Puritanism and false morality in the States; the sexual repression; the obsession with consumerism and material goods, and work, work, work, at the cost of friendships, family and quality of life; free of the terrible diet of fast food, processed food, industrialized, over-packaged food, and over-packaged lifestyles; free of the cold winters; and most importantly, free of the racism. Brazil may be a classist country, but it has at least recognized and embraced its African influences. Saint Louis, and the rest of the United States, owes a tremendous debt to the cultural contribution of African-Americans, a debt that can never be repaid. Yet no one wants to acknowledge this debt. In fact, Saint Louis continues to adhere to a social regime tantamount to apartheid. This makes me feel true shame.

I grew up near Delmar Blvd., at a time when that street practically divided the City in two halves — blacks to the north, whites to the south. Today, with "white flight" at its most expressive levels in decades, and with Saint Peters the fastest growing city in the state, the south side has taken on a more diverse character, but the dichotomy between white and black continues strong as ever. No contact between the races. I am not even surprised any more when I hear whites in Saint Louis say they have never heard of the St. Louis American.

I moved back to Saint Louis from Brazil in 1995, because I had decided to wanted to spearhead an urban pioneer movement, to repopulate abandoned areas of the city. Tax abatements, neighborhood associations and marketing campaigns only go so far. The war is won on an individual level. Someone has to move to the City and become an example, convincing others to follow. Someone has to dispel the myths of crime and hatred. Someone has to take action. So I bought an abandoned smokehouse from the LRA (Land Reutilization Authority) on Iowa, with a friend of mine, and without any financial resources to speak of we started fixing it up with our own four hands. The crack dealers on the block burned it to the ground, but we were relentless in our commitment. We traded the ashes for another building — squatting in the second without electricity for many months — until we had it back up to habitable conditions. It served as my home for several years. I made lasting friendships with neighbors that most Saint Louisans would never give themselves the chance to meet.

In fact, my friends from the suburbs continued intransigent in their stance. It was like high school all over again: attending the Priory, I was one of a handful of boys that lived in the City. My friends were not allowed to visit my home. Their parents thought I lived in the jungle, and that their children would be robbed, raped, or murdered if they left West County. In college, when I lived near Crown Candy, I convinced a few to visit. It was like taking them to a foreign country. They had never even driven through north city. They didn't even know it existed! Living in my LRA property I discovered that nothing had changed years later. People were still unable to overcome their prejudice and fear. They actually liked hiding out in Saint Peters. And so, recognizing that we live in a cultural democracy, where people vote with their feet, I accepted the defeat of my pioneer efforts and returned to Brazil.

I miss a lot of things about Saint Louis, especially the radio. When I was growing up there were more than five or six full-time jazz stations: KBIL, KWMU, WSIE, KATZ (on the prowl). Webster University had a real funky one, too, but I don't remember the call letters. There was even a smooth jazz station, though I never liked it much. Add all these to KDHX, and its eclectic array of programming, and man, we were in a really privileged position musically. That was a fact. I got hooked on funk, soul, R&B, jazz, blues, reggae, rap, African. You name it. If it had roots in the diaspora of African music, it got played on Saint Louis radio. Saint Louis is a deeply funky place, but so many people are unable to tap into the vibe.

I do not consider myself a patriotic person. I don't care much for the USA as a whole, but I have deep, unseverable ties to Saint Louis. And the reason for this is that Saint Louis is a very unique place. I just can't figure out why people are so self-denigrating, why they can't define and give value to what makes them so special. I have a different vision, but it doesn't seem like many people share it with me, so it has just remained a daydream that I indulge in moments of homesickness. Maybe my Saint Louis will only ever exist in my mind."
stlouis  2004  tomkarsten  friends  missouri  maranhão  mississippiriver  ruins  midwest  us  patriotism  brazil  brasil  race  class  society  segregation 
april 2014 by robertogreco

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