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robertogreco : thenandnow   1

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

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