Last week I spent the better part of one work day without my electronic tethers. A technical glitch knocked out regional cellular service. And I rely upon the airwaves for all my voice and data (internet) needs. Besides setting me to thinking about the need for systems redundancy for running my business, it also gave me time to think about what it means to be connected.

Spam, spam, spam, spam…

Not that a short stretch of radio silence is all bad. It also keeps the unwanted and seemingly never-ending flow of unwanted communication at bay. With my contact information floating around on the web, I suffer daily from email spammers. And I also get frequent interruptions of cold-call/direct mail scammers and never-take-no-for-an-answer dreamers.

I’ve learned to quick filter out most of these. When someone is trying to sneak a sales pitch upon you with a teaser email they usually give way too much information. For example, they launch into a long lecture about how I’m not ranking well in the search engines. Or, they are cryptically terse. With a typical, “agroforestry… let’s talk”. But either way, they still eat into my productive work time.

Producers Disconnected From Electronic Communications

My brief disconnection from the information superhighway came in the same week in which I participated in a discussion on how to best extend technical information to agricultural and woodlot producers. Despite the prevalence of high-tech connection options, this ‘boots in the dirt’ crowd have not fully embraced electronic information delivery. The average producer still desires a hands-on, and in-person approach to communications and learning.

This, of course, pushes back against the trend of moving extension 180 degrees away from this ideal. Shrinking human and financial resources in government agencies and not-for-profit organizations mean less money to spend. And against the backdrop of a vast geography that must be served, it means a move towards centralized expertise serving large territories. And even the ability to get someone on the phone is becoming increasingly scarce. Social media, cloud chat resources and discussion forums are becoming the standard, not the leading edge, of information delivery and communication.

This can present logistical problems for me. Because, not only do my clientele not readily embrace Web 2.0, some may even look upon those that use it with derision. For someone constantly dealing with tangible production challenges, social media can be seen, at best, as something for evenings and weekend recreation. But it certainly is not viewed as a legitimate business communications tool.

Decision Makers Disconnected From the Land

Counter this with a different kind of disconnection. The end markets for agricultural and forestry products, and the power to sway policy makers, is in the majority urban demographic. And while the average urban dweller has embraced the information age, they are ever increasingly disconnected from the land.

Impressions of land management issues are now formulated in sound-bites and tweets. And more disturbingly, there is a growing percentage of the population that are completely disconnected from, and apathetic to, the challenges and opportunities of resource management. This leaves the whole public policy debate open to an advocacy-driven process. Meaning it can be settled by who has the best PR strategy. And this is not something that necessarily reflects the best situation on the ground in the short or long term.

Rural-Urban Divide

Because the public opinion tug of war is increasingly waged in the social media, it leaves producer groups and their reluctance to use new communication outlets with the weakest voic. But arguably, they have the strongest direct connection to the land. Only when we can remedy these social disconnections will the growing rural – urban divide begin to shrink.


Two comments on “Disconnected in the Golden Age of Wireless”

Melanie 5 December 2011 at 4:53 pm

Two very good observations!

How about the use of social media to connect people and get urbanites out onto the land? Rather than seeing the social media tool as an agent that takes people away from it, can we flip this around and use it to re-engage and educate them and connect them to the folks with their boots in the dirt?

George Powell (responding to Melanie) 5 December 2011 at 5:21 pm

Thank you Melanie. I don’t see social media and other ‘virtual’ interactions as something that necessarily takes people away from the land. But from my perspective there is a divide in who predominantly uses information technology, and as consequence the conversation is at times too one-sided. The rural-urban divide is being pulled wider by both sides. This post was an attempt at getting everyone to understand their own disconnections. I think we need to reengage a generation of urban people to the realities of land and resource issues. Rural communities, and people that make a living off the land, need to understand the realities of 21st century information flows and use social media more fully within their communication tools.

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