Silly Thought

I’m warning you ahead of time the following is not a deep thought:

I do get occasionally amused at being a poster child for Science Fiction’s Digital Future when I live in a rural town of 1,800 people with agricultural fields directly to my east, south and west, and Amish buggies clopping down the road on a daily basis. It’s, like, three cheers for cognitive dissonance.

47 Comments on “Silly Thought”

  1. One of the hopes of a digital age is that people don’t have to choose between living packed together or a long commute. You’re living that dream – rural life with a technical, white collar job.

    Another example is one of the keenspot guys moved their operations to South Dakota.

  2. Not in the least! The fact that you’ve got a Tolerable Gaming Rig plugged into an Acceptable Internet Connection means that you’ve adapted your slice of bucolic splendour to your technological needs. Throw in being able to reach a big city rapidly though modern transit for the occasional dose of bright lights and noise, and you’re edging towards the platonic ideal of a high-tech society – everything you want, when and how you want it, without having to give up peace and greenery.

  3. My wife and I live in a rural area north of Pittsburgh, more or less where the ‘burbs start turning into farms (less than 30 minutes from downtown, by the way – one of the reasons I love Pittsburgh.)

    I’m an embedded system programmer. (Hey, Christina!) My neighbor – who also owns a farm, for her horses – is a graphic designer and technical marketing specialist. One hill over (that’s how we measure things here, where we have real jography, y’know :-) on neighboring farms are a technical relations manager and a network file systems expert.

    I’ve joined in complaining about SMB while digging a new septic line, and chatted about the changes in the publishing market brought on by Lulu and Cafe Press in between mucking out the barn. I’ve pretty much gotten used to it, though. All told, I’m glad my life is odd.

    As you said, three cheers for cognitive dissonance :-)

  4. I guess it just goes to show that WHO you are matters more than WHERE you are. God bless the internet.

    Good for you.

    Now if I could just convince my boss that I don’t REALLY need to be chained to this cube and that it would save lots of money and time if they would let me telecommute, it wold be good for me, too.

  5. Tom: I don’t know about the Scalzi compound, but we have an IDSL connection. It’s only 144K, but that’s more than fast enough for everyday use (web, email, and work-related stuff for me), including every networked game I’ve thrown at it.

    Plus, frankly, I’m kind of glad I don’t have a high-speed connection. Though I can and do work at home, my home is *not* my office… and keeping my connectivity less-than-stellar helps me to keep that divide in place. I’m not sure I’d have the self-discipline to keep my work/home life distinct otherwise (though I know my wife would argue that I already have problems in that area…)

  6. @JustAnotherJohn: I could do my job at home, as well, 99% of it. I may have to be here a day a week but my boss doesn’t let people work at home. “I know when I am home I am distracted by chores and laundry” is her excuse.

  7. I’m chiming in with the chorus. That’s the whole point of enabling digital technology.
    One of my secret thoughts for the future of libraries is to become a community hub, where we supply the latest and greatest in interactive digital communications, where we operate 24/7 to allow global interaction and provide a welcoming and secure facility so that we do not lose local connections as we increasingly interact in digital spaces.
    And yes, there will still be books to read while you are waiting for your two hour slot in Holosuite 2.

  8. I think the “poster-child” status resonates more effectively because you can still do the job you do where you do it. There is a stand-up comedian (Patton Oswald?) who does a bit about ‘its easy to be gay in New York or San Francisco, try it in rural Alabama’. This (admittedly stretched) analogy fits for you – since it is more expected for a SF author to be wired to the gills and tech savvy if they live in Seattle or Houston your situation is both more memorable and noteworthy

  9. Town of 5,000 here.

    High-speed Internet? Check. (Still waiting for DSL, but having to make do with 768k satellite Intertubes is not a bad trade-off for ten acres of quiet in the middle of bucolic splendor.

    The mountains are an hour away. So’s the seashore. Metro Boston is two hours away and offers all the Big City I want, at my leisure. Grocery store is twenty minutes away…so’s fast food, but that’s more a blessing than a drawback.

    And I get more freelance work now than I ever did when we were still city dwellers. As long as I have an Intertubes link, I can submit stuff to clients. They don’t care whether I email them the copy from rural New Hampshire or downtown NYC…they just care about getting it on time and on spec.

    I do love living in the future.

  10. @9 and @11 – You might not want to work from home (unless you are a writer or otherwise “self employed”).

    Not because it’s not nice and convenient, saves the environment, etc, etc. (Because it does/is).

    But if you are a cubicle rat chances are that if your job can be done from your house, it can be done from Mumbai at a fraction of the cost……….

    OK – I’m bitter (that’s where all the telecommuting IT jobs went here).

    I also can’t help but reflect on the deep irony that rural property is the US is probably far cheaper than that in the cities (the inverse of the UK where squalor keeps the prices low!).

    Oh well – at least my ADSL is 20 Mb/s :p

  11. @15: Actually, I have to meet clients in person in their homes so I don’t think my job will going to India for along, long time.

  12. I would have had exactly the opposite reaction, that your situation is entirely representative. For 500 years, from the Italian Renaissance through the 20th century, intellectual thought moved forward mainly hand in hand with urbanization. I am not really an expert in describing the ins and outs of this, but there is clearly a density and network effect to intellectual advancement, and given past communication approaches, this required physical proximity. The promise of modern IT technology is that it may allow us to achieve this density without physical proximity.

  13. @15
    Mine is for the DoD, so it’s also unlikely to be outsourced to India.

    Now, if they really went at it, much of the workload could be consolidated (which is actually part of my duties) and they could cut some jobs. But working remotely would certainly dovetail with our green initiatives… save lots of power (don’t have to air condition my cube or provide power) as well as cut down on pollution- I have a 30 minute commute, but 20 minutes of that is due to gridlock… so I spend 40 minutes a day in bumper-to-bumper traffic needlessly spewing exhaust from my car into the atmosphere.

  14. Well — speaking from rural South Africa (where I also write) I have 3/4 of mile muddy track to the nearest neighbors and can see one light at night (I’d shoot the damn thing out but is 10 miles away) I have a radio-link to an ADSL line. It works reasonably well: I’ve been the art director at JBU for 3 years on that system and graphics are quite demanding. It tends to make you quite net orientated for company though.

  15. If the new Trek trailer has any say in the matter, that could be prime starship-buildin’ land Real Soon. You’ll need more quarry’s, though.

  16. @16 and @19: Well I mainly work for the MoD (defence) and NHS (health records) with occasional fixes where things have gone pear-shaped (close consultation with client). There seems to be a common theme here!

    The annoying thing is that when it was predicted that the IT revolution would allow people to telecommute, the actual effect was that the work that was non-locational (is that a word?), fled to the cheapest production centres.

    So we still get to sit in traffic :(

    I guess the lesson is that what actually happens when technology offers new opportunities never quite matches the predictions.

  17. I agree with the others here who have said that you’re actually the face of the 21st Century: able to do technical work without living in the concrete jungle.

    Myself, though I grew up in the burbs, I’m a city boy by nature. I love restaurants and so on. Yeah, I know you have them too, but if I go to a restaurant and it’s got a line out the door, it’s a few yards’ walk to another good restaurant. I like that.

    Also, I have an irrational fear of wide-open spaces. I keep thinking “If someone started shooting at me here, there’d be no cover at all!” Please note: I have never been shot at, to my knowledge, and have not even an irrational reason to have such a phobia. But it makes me nervous.

    Christopher 6: Post pictures of the Amish buggies, please.

    I’m assuming that this is a joke and that you actually realize how rude it is to take photographs of Amish people and their equipment.

  18. Well, there is FI in SciFi, and it involes much more creativity and damn hard work than phasers and transporters.


  19. Look at it this way:

    It’s the frikkin’ twenty-first century.

    The entire planet is supposed to look like a grimier version of Newark by now.

    And yet, it is possible to live in — and be a part of the global community — from a town full of farms with horse-drawn carts on the roads.

    Now if you only had a flying car to make getting places easier…

  20. @Xopher. No fears. I should have phrased it better. I suck sometimes.

    My Amish relatives are east of Scalzi, near Delaware, Ohio. I only hear from them once and a while because I am too lazy to handwrite a letter.

  21. Would they read it if you typed it, printed it out, and mailed it to them? Or is it that whole envelope and stamp process that you find daunting (I certainly do)?

  22. Some sorts of artistry really do require physical proximity to your audience. E. M. Forster’s novella “The Machine Stops” shows the doomed populace attending performances or lectures remotely from their cells, and they’re satisfied (or think they are) – but would you be, if the only plays or concerts you ever attended were by video, even if it were 3D? There is indeed something special about being in (or performing in front of) an audience of more than, say, 20.

    Those of us who aren’t performing artists ourselves could do all our work remotely and ideally would go into cities for a performance. But could performing artists survive if there were little or no urban base for audiences? And how much could they earn if most touring venues were small towns?

    (have to go back to work – via Remote Desktop Connection for Mac)

  23. Didn’t William Gibson (basically) invent cyberpunk on a manual typewriter?

    Sorry, John: I don’t think you’ve quite hit ironic iconic status. Maybe if you write the next novel longhand with a fountain pen and deliver it to the post office on horseback? Or tell everyone that you’ve decided to eschew e-mail in favor of telegrams?

  24. I second and third the no-cognitive-dissonance thing. Besides, I’m thinking the real future will have more and more of this. Farms will get bigger and bigger and people will travel less and less. The internet connections will matter more than, to at least some degree, highways matter in the future.

    As the industrial age and cheap energy come to an end more and more of our available energy will be used for the growing and harvesting of foods. People that are able to will live closer to the food sources. We will regress somewhat to the pre-suburban state of urban/rural with not much in between.

    The US population will shrink, a little, but world population will halve. As usual though most of the pain and death will take place out of our sight. I imagine we will, for the most part, ignore this rather than bother to rationalize it. We will figure we have enough of our own problems and the world will have to take care of itself.

    Unwanted immigrants to the US will be considered terrorists and we will have barricaded the Mexican border by then. We are already building the internment camps.

  25. Christopher,

    Of course it was a joke. I have Amish relatives.

    Cool. Do you have any pictures you can post?

    Yeah, that was a lame joke too. I’ve visited Amish farms with respect and took no photos. Nothing but memories. I could probably sketch a horse and buggy but there is nothing really special about them, other than they are no longer in style for the rest of us.

  26. Actually, it seems oddly appropriate to me.

    It is almost a tradition for SF writers to have quirks like Asimov’s phobia about flying.

    This is just the Web 2.0 version. :)

  27. An Eric @33

    Hard to use telegrams anymore, Western Union dropped the service (more recently than you would think though).

  28. Currently writing this in my dining room, between checking on news, and dinner. Wireless laptop, over a Hughes satellite.

    Can we all pray that Sen. Stevens does not gain re-election.

    How about we all agree that anyone who’s been in office more then 2 decades, should consider being retired.

    Anyway, we’ve got farms land all around us, and only 40 minutes from downtown Indy. Currently only have 2 acres, but hoping to buy more later. Prices should have stabilized now that ethanol is less popular (yeah low oil prices.)

  29. My equivalent irony to that is that when I use the computer, I wear eyeglasses which were worn by my great-great-grandfather. They were sent home with his other effects when he was killed during the Civil War.

  30. Aha! Then that’s the way for him to do it, Bensdad00! He needs to insist on telegrams to the point that he starts his own telegraph service.

    Better yet, since copper wiring is expensive: he can set up a private telephone service using Dixie Cups and miles of string. Gives him a nice Howard Hughes angle, especially if he answers every “phone” call with, “Ha, you can’t steal my brains because there’s no copper in this line, you brain-stealing commie bastard!”

    I can imagine the talk at cons: “Hey, what’s wrong with Scalzi, you talked to him lately?” “No, he still hasn’t given me cup. You?”

  31. Well, you needed somewhere to live while waiting for our Computer Overlords to take over the world and enslave us all. Why not somewhere pretty?

  32. Awesome shot. Were you standing in the middle of the road to get it? (I can’t say how much hard drive space I’ve wasted on trying to get a shot like that while actually driving, with a dirty windshield, yet.)

    re 30: I don’t understand why it takes me months to get to the post office, but it does.

  33. Your lifestyle is just one step closer to the Tatooine ideal of technologically supported, isolated self-sustainability, you see.

  34. An Eric @40

    How about using pneumatic tubes powered by giant hand-pushed bellows – all the moving parts are visible with none of that ‘electricity’ magic.

  35. I just love that picture. Ohio’s one of those places I’ve only ever been *through*, on a train, in the middle of the night. But I grew up a stone’s throw from Lancaster, PA so I feel ya on the clopping of Amish buggies. :)

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