Saturday, November 29, 2008

step back in time

I end up talking to a gentleman last Saturday outside his home at the end of a worn-out dirt road. His house was one that I had already noticed reminded me images from documentaries of Appalachia during the origins of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Slight of build and subtlely sunken eyes shrouded by life-filled crow's feet that give him a perma-grin, he greeted me. His well and outhouse in the back yard were clearly visible from the side of the house where he met me. How old is this house? I asked, to which he said 'oh, goodness, this house? I don't know - it's old.' and goes on to explain he was born and raised in that house, and he's now 80 years old. He retrieved his daughter from inside to help answer the question, though. She, too, was slight of build, and though did not look old, she looked like time had not been as kind as her face was absent her father's smile. Given the impression she, too, lived in the house, I asked how many lived in the house, to which they both answered at the same time, so I missed the details: something like a sister, twins and two grandchildren to make for 8 people in the house. The man smiled and nodded with pride. He continued to tell me about working at the sawmill back in the day, and while telling me, I couldn't help but notice the child, about three years old, inside the house who had climbed on a chair to reach up and run his finger along the window pane.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

'Technology doesn't work backwards'

I racked my brain for a good name for this blog since it is the second step in the set up process. Knowing that my work in rural, economically distressed communities - and my travels getting there - is what has been on my mind recently to give me the energy to publish thoughts and observation, I wanted to call attention to those places in some way. 'Rural Rumblings' sounded cliche, 'Rte 58' too geographically confined, 'The Decentralized Digest' too pigeon-holed, and 'the Colorblind Chronicles' already taken - but it occured to me in considering the decentralized idea that there is a distinct reason why I come back to these technologies as often as I do. And despite the perceptions and misconceptions of technologies out there, there are some technologies that do, in a way work backwards.

It was a visit to the capital, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the summer of 1999 in which I first heard the term 'technology doesn't work backwards' from one of my fellow Peace Corps trainees. He happened to be the first person I knew who had broadband internet - though at the time, he had to describe it to me as I had never heard of this being available outside a university computer lab. He agonized that day in Tegus over struggling to check e-mail and paying by the minute while information trickled in over the good ol' fashioned dial-up line. To summarize his frustration, he plainly stated 'technology doesn't work backwards.'

That line has always stuck with me, and in many ways it continues to ring true. But in the context this comment was made must be noted: when you are accustomed to a certain technology or convenience, you really notice when you must experience a lower level of that same thing. Technology itself doesn't work backwards, but its users move backwards on occassion. Based on the living conditions many folks experience every day in some of our rural communities - sometimes in the shadow of affluent municipalities - there are technologies available to improve standards of living, but these may not the newest technologies one would think. In an odd illutration of this, there may be a good reason someone can actually install and approved outhouse today according to specific North Carolina laws. An outhouse - legally permitted. Like giving incoming freshman at UNC or Duke a quill and ink well.

But the outhouse serves as a stark illustration of what many families are dealing with in their day-to-day lives. And this is where I'd like to focus attention of this blog. Looking at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, many of these families are at the base - and then how much weight to community leaders give to moving these folks into the realm of safety and belonging? Can we provide different levels of services to folks depending on what thier needs are? Can the demands of other portions of the community be met via a tool that also benefits those in most dire need? this is a short list of questions around this issue - and not even touching the concern of costs of services.

And so, I hope to jot notes and stories and observations here that to varying degrees will touch on this idea of technology working backwards.