Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Effect of Information Technology and Media Preoocupation with Urban Events on the Relative Sophistication of Urban and Rural Populations

This may not happen again for a long time. I agree with part of an article in the Huffington Post:

Californians as a group "are a people in a state already surfeited with a smug sense of superiority and, as an ironic consequence, a parochialism and insularity at odds with the innovation, prosperity and openness for which California is rightly known."
("Obama: No Surprise That Hard-Pressed Pennsylvanians Turn Bitter"
Huffington Post (April 11, 2008))

Urban Sophisticates / Small Town Hicks: Reality Check

For decades, I've seen indications that the stereotype behind "Green Acres" and similar comedies is not merely false: it's inverted. (Green Acres fans: please don't take offense. I thought the show was funny, and nobody came off as particularly sharp.)

Stay with me, please: I'm not trying to create another 'victim' group.

The stereotype is:
  • Knowledgeable, up-to-date, broad-minded city folk
  • Ignorant, decades out of touch with current events, dangerously narrow-minded country folk
There may have been a time when this reflected reality. In the days before the Internet, television, radio, telegraph, and the printing press, a person's - or a community's - knowledge of the world depended largely on personal, face-to-face, contact.

In a time when people seldom traveled more than a few miles from the place they were born, those who lived in cities had an enormous advantage over those in the country.

People who lived in cities had opportunities to meet and talk with many more people than people who lived in the country. And, city dwellers were more likely to meet people from other cities, or even other countries.

Where the country bumpkin might know the king's name, the city sophisticate might know what the king had for breakfast that morning, and be comparing several versions of what the king and the ambassador from abroad were discussing.

That was then.

Old Assumptions Meet the Information Age

I just got through listening to, and watching, a message that the Pope read, for the American people, in anticipation of his visit next week. I plan to watch part of it, although I'll be over a thousand miles away, in Minnesota.

That message is available to people living in downtown Manhattan; Winnemucca, Nevada; and Sauk Centre, Minnesota.

A person doesn't have to live in the heart of a great city to be informed. Not now. For example, I live in a small town in central Minnesota, with a population of about 4,000.

The stereotypical small town hick might, possibly, know who was president, but wouldn't be informed about affairs outside his little twarf. This resident of a small town, in a few minutes, pulled together this list of headlines: And, glanced through the stories.

Living outside a major metropolitan area no longer means being isolated from national and world events.

In fact, I suspect that people in rural areas are more knowledgeable of urban conditions, than the reverse.

It's not that rural people are smarter, or more interested.

What's going on in urban areas permeates the media. It's hard not to know something about New York City, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities.
  • Real-life minutia, from the latest grass fire outside Los Angeles, to traffic problems in New York City, dominate the news. It takes a major tornado outbreak to get something that detailed about life in the heartland on national television.
  • Fictionalized accounts of life in cities dominate entertainment media. Having lived both in urban and rural America, I know from personal experience that "Law and Order," for example, does a better job of portraying urban life, than "Green Acres" does for rural living.

Wake Up, Everyone! It's a New World!

I don't expect that 'sophisticated' people in California, and elsewhere, will give up that "smug sense of superiority and ... parochialism and insularity" any time soon. It's too comfortable a garment to cast off easily.

But, people who really believe that the natives of rural Pennsylvania are armed and dangerous xenophobic religious chauvinists are living in a world of yesterday: one that never really quite existed.

It's time for the rest of us to get on with the business of living in the Information Age.

A related post: "A Xenophobic Remark by a Gun-Toting Religious Small Town Person" (April 12, 2008)


Anonymous said...

well said. even in a mid-western pseudo-city (kansas city) the view is quite skewed. something about living in a "city" makes small-minded people feel superior to those who don't.

Brian H. Gill said...

heidianne jackson,


Not all 'city folks' are like that, but too many are.

It's a pattern I've been aware of for decades - what surprised me was that a liberal publication like the Huffington Post would notice the phenomenon.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.