Rural timewarp

As I sit here Twittering from my touchscreen PDA wondering if I can afford the iPhoneís unlimited access data plan, I begin to reflect on how fast things have changed. I reflect on what slowed their transition.

I remember watching the first 10 years of TV programing in only two colors. Our Saturday morning cartoons and most everything else we watched was on an old black and white television my sister had been given a decade earlier. Later, I remember getting our first color television for our house when our parents finally picked one up at a garage sale in 1995. I was 13.

We had a full color TV in the living room, but access was limited to the times of the day when the parents werenít watching it.

In college, to get my urban roommates rolling with laughs, Iíd try to describe how we got our broadcasts back home over the airwaves. Literally, the kinds of radio transmissions that require huge gaudy antennas to catch. They look like something NASA would strap to the side of the Mars Lander, but bigger.

There was only a single channel we received in clarity, as in it wasnít constantly peppered with snowing interference and background sounds of static feedback. It was CBS, Channel 12, in Binghamton.

We had three others to choose from PBS, FOX 40 and NBC. NBC and FOX came in roughly 60 percent of the time, while PBS programing was only tolerable under ideal circumstances about 20 percent of the time.

I can easily recall being glued to a screeching television screen in the throes of an epic sitcom development, hoping desperately to catch a long enough glimpse of what was happening to piece together a cohesive storyline. Suffice it to say we read a lot of books and spent most of our time outdoors.

I remember being in High School in 1999 (a sophomore) and a friend asked me for my e-mail. I responded that I didnít have one. I was subsequently mocked by a few of the more privileged (to put it nicely) classmates. Good thing I didnít tell them that my family had never owned a computer or had a connection to Internet, for that matter. I wasnít even sure what e-mail was, except from what I had heard in gossip or saw on TV. Later that year we got our first computer though.

My family was not alone of course and the worst part was that so many people, even in our own community, didnít truly grasp the disconnecting rift in our local digital revolution.

I remember a new teacher once demanding all our work be typed. She was snide about it, one of those out of touch people who probably had their parents pay for their college education. Iím still bitter. Not because of a personal grudge, but seriously there were so many kids, friends of mine in the same boat or worse, who I knew wouldnít even make an attempt to do it. Itís not like you raise your hand in class and admit youíre too poor or ignorant to complete the assigned task; as a teen it was a lot easier just to say ďscrew it.Ē Iím really donít blame them.

The more academic classes, physics, calculus, university English often demanded such a practice and sometimes required regular access to the Internet. I always felt it discriminated against those without these resources readily available, but what else is new?

The teacher and I argued once, and I remember (quite clearly) her saying that if we canít do it at home, we could find time at lunch or after school to type our work on the schoolís computers. Like kids already so void of options need additional obstacles placed in their path.

On another occasion, after she had warned me several times, she once marked off 10 points for using improper font and spacing. I had to explained to her my typewriter at home only had one font.

The first cell phone I ever purchased was in 2004 when I was a sophomore in college. I donít remember ever getting consistent service in Chenango during this period other than in Norwich, but I felt like the last person on the planet to have one in school. I think now though you can cross most of the State Highway 12 corridor (our life line to the outside world) and maintain general service. Although I find that accomplishment satisfying enough, it is also heart breaking weíre still not there yet.

Once you step out of Chenango County and into the digital revolution, you realize just how much youíve truly missed in the world, like a caveman just thawed out of an ice age.

Just to be clear, my parents werenít poor but like everyone else who works for a living, they were burdened economically. Even more of an issue though was just how out of touch, in total contradiction to the teacherís view, they were to the constant changes Ė like individuals from two completely different worlds and time periods.

Iíve heard it so many times. Back in their day no one had a cell phone, in fact a number of people in the older generations look at them as annoyances (I agree). The same goes for the Internet and just about any domestic technology thatís come to fruition in the last decade or two.

I get it, I really do. Why pay a phone bill for another phone when the old rotary still dials just fine? (Ours was retired in 1996). Do you really need to be accessible 24 hours a day?

They, like many, thought of the new technologies as luxuries, which they are Ė until everyone begins to assume and then demand you have them. Unfortunately for the recent generations in Chenango County this period of delayed transition has been elongated in our area by our slow economic growth and rural isolationism, catching a lot of people in a predicament similar to my own.

Growing up a decade behind the rest of the world and being constantly reminded of it, this limbo and its accompanying bias I have no doubt persists on at least some scale still today.

As I write this Iím not in the least concerned with getting an outcry of shock from many readers, in fact I expect to be inundated with stories putting mine to shame, of people who tell me I had it so good. I take a moment after that thought to think ďnow thatís the kind of place we live in.Ē

As bleak as Iím coming off, itís really not all bad.

Sitting across from my college clique, most of whom hail from the cosmopolitan areas of the state, while they text away on cell phones, discussing the latest in reality TV and pop culture, my ears fall hypnotized to the calming sounds theyíve never had a chance to hear.

The wind rustling in the trees and the orchestra of peace found only in remote rural silence. Iíve had the time to read books, even classics in my youth and not because teachers assigned them in class. Let me tell you itís a completely different experience.

I remind myself of our dark nights, far from any light pollution, so full of all the stars people in the cities have never even seen before.

In these fleeting moments, despite its challenges, I still think back to Chenango County and catch a part of me thinking, ďThank God I grew up here.Ē

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