Country Mice, City Phones and the Cellular Divide



Visitor’s choice: read or be read to. I suggest sit back and listen!

One of the first things I learned when I brought home my (first-ever) smart phone recently is that you can download fantastic free software applications to help you discover and navigate to the locations and happenings around you. Which is great–if there happen to be any Starbucks or rock concerts on your gravel road.

I quickly understood that these gee-whiz Dick Tracy communications devices cater heavily to big-city folks who live perpetually bombarded by wireless and GPS signals (we live in a 3G dead zone on Goose Creek) and who are far busier and more urgently in need than I am to stay oriented to the minute by minute location of Twitter pals and their proximity to snarled intersections.

Yes, rural smartphone users have been marginalized, and as one of the newest among them, I am indignant. The entire industry needs re-tooling. For starters, lets work on these little locator programs; they require a major rural redesign.

For those of us who are not of the Greater Metro Area persuasion, we demand different categories of blinking dots on our tiny maps than Sports Bars, Sushi Grills, Art Museums, Movie Megaplex and Parking Decks. We ask for the immediate inclusion of meaningful secondary-road cell phone destination categories, including but not limited to the following:

Flatfoot and Contra, Best in-Store Wood Stoves and Checkers, Antique Farm Equipment, Unplanted Roadside Gardens, Front Porch Conversations, Zany Artwork and Crafts, Feed and Seed, Nightcrawlers and Crickets, and Serve-Yourself Money-in-a-Jar Vegetable Stands.

For traffic navigation-mapping, we want audible alerts that warn us of and possibly route us around Cattle Auctions, Deer Suicide Areas, Washboard and Potholes; Flea Markets. Gun Shows, and Slow Farm Equipment in Transit (use different icons with the diagonal slash for hay wagons and logging trucks.) It would also be very helpful to prepare us well in advance for the only 200 yards of passing lane that come along unpredictably every few miles of Daniels Run and Ridgeview.

And dear Built-in Navigational Robot Voice Lady, please reference travel to our destination with appropriate rural context and language like “turn right in one quarter mile at large maple tree; exit hardtop to gravel lane and cross three creeks. Continue on for a little piece 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 also related: when we attempt to “Navigate” using Google speech recognition to find the home of those new acquaintances on the other side of Floyd County, recognize the input of place names “crick” and “holler” and the geographic terms of relative location “yonder” and “thereabouts”. 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 here.

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 Mobile 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.

And a quick suggestion before I hang up. If Steve Jobs outfit responds to my suggestion and manufactures a Rural Smart iPhone, it could be named the Road Apple. The city folks won’t get it. All the better.

So, future Country Phone developers, can you hear me now? Design our rural phone applications to take into account the more convivial setting here, our slower pace, smaller-pond, homey, locavore, less-consumptive way of life. In a conciliatory first step in this direction: pre-install Carter Family Ring Tones, starting with Sunny Side of Life. You know where to find me when it’s ready. Honk first, then Just come on in.

by Fred First / Fragments from Floyd / February 2010

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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. It has been several months of Sundays since I’ve seen a Road Apple in my path. This is a wonderful piece of work Fred. Do you know how fortunate you actually are to be able to live when you live? That was a rhetorical question. I know that you do.

  2. Very funny. I loved the writing. We rural folks are devoid of many of the electronic advantages of the modern world. We are also devoid of the constant distractions and interruptions they provide.

    Kind of like before the day when the electrified rural america-we probably won’t really know how good we have it until we don’t have it anymore.

    Being a ludite has a few advantages, one of them being sanity.

  3. Floyd,

    This is too funy–and so true. Not only am I in a 3G dead zone, I don’t have 2G either. In fact, I’m not sure I have any G’s to my phone service. And another ap that would be useful here would be “nearest spot in road where 3G service can be found and no traffic will force you to move along before you can use it.” I’ve found two so far, both on hills with good vistas.

    Carolyn H

  4. Don’t go there, Fred. My neighbor once wished for an extension of MetroRail (the elevated rail system in Miami) all the way down to Homestead. I told her she was nuts – for it to be built, there would have to be many hundreds of thousands of people more in this area. Don’t go wishing for city things in the country – a very tall wall is in order, me thinks! As Bill said, “being a luddite has a few advantages, one of them being sanity.”

    Then again, maybe I mistook your words for seriousness – maybe you were being tongue-in-cheek. I hope so …..