Cell Phone App Providers: Rural is Not Just Empty Space

Pass Picturesque Barn on right in 400 Yards
Pass Picturesque Barn on right in 400 Yards

Google Places. Layars. Where. Aloqa. These are fantastic free apps for my new cell phone (Moto-Droid) and while each works a little differently, all of these downloadables are designed to help you orient to the places and happenings around you. Which is great–if there happen to be any.

Let me suggest that these utilities need a major rural redesign for those of us who are not of the Greater Metro Area persuasion. Come on guys. Go rouge (sic). Replace Bars, Sushi, Concerts, Museums and Sports Arenas, please. Give us destinations like:

Real Barbeque, Flatfoot and Contra, Best in-Store Wood Stoves and Checkers, Dense Woods, Scenic Vistas, Wildflowers, Front Porch Conversations, Inexplicable Artwork, Feed and Seed, Nightcrawlers and Crickets, and Drying Paint.

Give me travel warnings with audible notifications for Cattle Auctions, Deer Suicide Areas, Washboard and Potholes, Flea Markets and Slow Farm Equipment in Transit (with different icons with the diagonal slash for hay wagons and logging trucks, please.) Showing in advance the 200 yards of passing lane that come along unpredictably every few miles of back roads would also be helpful.

Built-in navigational robot voice, please reference travel to destination with appropriate language  like “turn right in 300 yards at large yellow dog; exit hardtop to gravel path and cross three creeks if you can; continue for ½ mile after you think for sure you must be lost.” Finally the voice tells the traveler “You have reached your destination. Honk three times and wait for signal giving permission to exit your vehicle.”

And when we attempt to “Navigate” using Google speech recognition to find the home of that new acquaintance on the other side of Floyd County, allow the input of place names “crick” and “holler” and the geographic term of relative location “yonder” and do not respond in your robot voice with “You have got to be kidding!” in reference to where we chose to travel to see friends. We know what we’ve doing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy to have all the bells and whistles of this new technology that ties me to the rest of the world. I’m just saying, we in southwest Virginia don’t live like you do–Google, Verizon and Motorola–and you have painted wired humanity with too broad a brush, excluding those of us who are phone and data fee-paying rural outliers from the urban fringes and beyond. Can you hear me now?

Sub-regional Ex-urban Android application developers of tomorrow, please listen to us. Attempt in future to bring your apps in line with our more convivial context, slower pace, and homey-earthy focus. First: Carter Family Ring Tones, starting with Sunny Side of Life, please. You know where to find me when it’s ready. Honk first, then Just come on in. #droid

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Oh, did I love this entry!! I have used a Garmin handheld GPS for 4 years now on our round the country RV trips, so the topic is one of great interest to me, and your explanation of what rural folks would like to know from a GPS was very amusing. I have had lots of help and some ridiculous frustration using ours. They really give rural areas short shrift, in my experience. Don’t bother to use one where you live.

  2. Heck, I’ll settle for a few more cellular towers so’s I can still use these new-fangled phones once I get down in the holler. Just, please, disguise them as old pine trees or something.

  3. And maybe someday the folks who brought us the iPhone will venture into the same market that is currently dominated by Garmin and Tom-Tom. They could call it…

    …the Road Apple.