This morning it was around -10 °F (-23 °C) before the sun rose:
It’s been colder, but rarely so bright at night. Yet that’s not the anecdote I wanted to share.
A few days ago Vermont Public Radio shared a story about a new plan to entice people to move to our small, chilly state.
I posted a comment about a key detail missing from the plan:
We’re not going to grow until we improve our network infrastructure. Far too much of Vermont is ill served by poor internet connectivity. The same’s true for cell phone signals.
It’s the argument I’ve been making for a decade, as some of you know. My comment on this NPR page was intended to keep that theme going.
What fascinated me was the lone reply to appear, from one Thaddeus Wildasin:
We’ve lived here for generations without the web. I think we could manage. There are bigger problems here. I do agree it would be nice but if you think about it the internet is most of the problem here. Goods shipped from overseas, less reliance on local companies, plus the slumlords of the information superhighway.
It’s a fascinating comment for a range of reasons. There’s the conflation of broadband and the web itself (at least partially accessible without serious broadband). There’s the sense that broadband is “nice”, not important, and certainly not essential. Thaddeus goes on to see the internet as “most[ly]” responsible for globalization (and national trade, I think), which is a fascinating case of strong technological determinism. Then there’s the interesting echo of today’s popular critique of social media as digital slumlords (I think; he could be referring to post-net neutrality ISPs).
Above all looms the first two sentences: “We’ve lived here for generations without the web. I think we could manage.” I wonder when the first person made that argument about a new technology – not as an active critique or resistance, but instead offering a sense that the technology some saw as vital was actually superfluous, a surplus to the real world, an excrescence upon actual, lived history. It brought to mind that century-ago cliche of “if God wanted us to fly, he would have given us wings”.
I wasn’t the only one thinking historically. Over on Facebook, in response to my sharing this comment, two friends (from out of state!) offered a bit of antiquarian ventriloquism:
That inspired me to get biting:
We’ve lived here without anesthesia for generations. I think we could manage.
If you think about it, modern medicine is really the problem here…
Further echoes are left as an exercise to readers and commentators.
I have no idea how widespread this belief is among Vermonters. Most people I speak with think our poor connectivity is a shame, not a virtue.
It did remind me of an exchange I had with three state gubernatorial candidates in fall 2016. I’d put a question to the trio, asking how they’d improve internet access, and describing the poor broadband situation:
The Democrat, Sue Minter, cheered me up by suddenly asserting this as a campaign cause; alas, she lost the election. The Republican, Phil Scott, depressed me be carefully saying the state shouldn’t do anything on this score; alas, he won.
The third candidate, though, a semi-serious one named Bill “Spaceman” Lee, offered a different take. He said I was lucky to have bad broadband and no cell phone access. More people should live that way. That elicited a round of applause from the studio audience.
So, Mr. Wildasin, thank you for the comment and the thoughts it inspired on this new-fangled web thing. I’ll reply to you on that thread soon. I hope you see enough utility in the web to read it, and maybe respond back.