Information Underload

Finally we have a president who understands and uses technology. I shuddered at the thought of a McCain presidency, picturing two chairs behind the big desk in the oval office–one for John and one for Cindy, who handles the online needs of her technophobe husband.

A couple of years ago I moved back East from Montana, where I had cable/digital everything for $99 a month. In my new home, I now spend the same amount for limited satellite internet. In Massachusetts, home to the Massachusetts Institute of TECHNOLOGY (MIT), not to mention a bunch of other good schools, I couldn’t and still can’t believe that broadband is not available to all.

I am in Franklin County in the western part of the state that the powers that be in Boston tend to forget exists. Last month Executive Director Andre M. Porter of the Massachusetts Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship visited this area and met with a local group. One of the issues discussed was the fact that beginning in 2009, Massachusetts businesses are required to submit their sales tax information online, a cost-saving measure for the state. The problem is that few businesses in the area are “connected.” A very few have DSL, more have dial-up, but many have no computer at all. They are grocers, mechanics, loggers and others who support a modest but sustainable economy. Porter, who had no idea, in spite of the fact that broadband crusaders have been raising the warning flags for some time, plans an electronic newsletter, but a local accountant told him that just won’t work here. There is also a lack of cell service in the Hilltowns, but that’s another issue.

Area towns are small, and most libraries have one computer for public use. Naturally there is high demand, and since these libraries are typically open just ten or fifteen hours a week, a line often forms before the librarian puts the key in the lock on the three days when it is. I don’t see children using the computers, but usually adults with no other access. What about the kids? Isn’t this an education issue as well as a communication issue? Why are rural children any less entitled to spend hours on YouTube than those in Boston or Springfield?

I work under contract for a large educational publisher. I write text for their reference books and also the code that enables what I write to fall into online databases that most of the children in my area can’t even access. There are kids in Hong Kong who can read online what I and others write, but the families down the street cannot. That means that they can’t go to the sites of the great newspapers, magazines, libraries and museums. They can’t download the words of Shakespeare or Jefferson or Obama. Online courses aren’t available to them; hell online college catalogs aren’t available to them. And like the state’s new effort to save paper, more and more information will be accessible only online. Denying information is like denying food. A child will become stunted without it.

The people here are smart and industrious. They are the kind of folks who do grow small businesses, rely on their own skills and resources to get ahead, and save when they do. They are the people government tells us can rebuild this country, and yet, what does government do to help them? About as much as it does for the small farmer, an occupation of many who live here. With a little help from their friends — that would be the state and federal governments — they could expand the economy in Western Massachusetts and in all the other little towns and hamlets across the country that don’t have broadband access. A small business without e-mail or the ability to create a Web site doesn’t have the resources to compete in this country, let alone the world.

President Obama has stated that he intends to bring broadband to every child. Children do need access, as do small businesses and entrepreneurs who, along with their families, including those children, are economically disadvantaged because they must function without it.

Sheila Velazquez lives and writes in Northwest Massachusetts. Her work is informed by decades of experience with unions, agriculture, public health, politics and her support of populism. She welcomes contact by email: Read other articles by Sheila.

6 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Bob said on January 27th, 2009 at 4:17pm #

    What can I say other than idiotic!

  2. Tree said on January 27th, 2009 at 5:44pm #

    “That means that they can’t go to the sites of the great newspapers, magazines, libraries and museums. They can’t download the words of Shakespeare or Jefferson or Obama.”
    Western Massachusetts has many colleges and cultural institutions, kids don’t need the Internet for the above mentioned things, they have it all practically in their back yard.

    I’m more concerned about Obama’s (and other’s) agenda to make our country more reliant on electronic technology. With constant threats to our privacy and identity, I’m very concerned about all our health records being made into electronic files or businesses having to submit their sales tax information online all to save money. The more information that’s out there, the more risk to our privacy, the more regulations and laws will be passed that hinder our personal rights in order to prevent identity theft.

    I would prefer to see the way of life in Western Massachusetts as it is protected.

  3. Sheila Velazquez said on January 28th, 2009 at 5:00am #


    Of course we value our way of life, but we should have choice. We will become more paperless for the savings, like it or not, and as much as I hold to the old ways, if information is available only electronically, then we should all have access. Small businesses and farms need to get the word out and stay connected for planning and marketing purposes, and children should be able to find what they need. I agree with you on the privacy issue. I believe there is a balance that is necessary in order to preserve life here and encourage young families to come and be part of it.

  4. Tree said on January 28th, 2009 at 7:14am #

    I should have written that the powers-that-be should respect the way of life in Western MA.
    I agree, people should have the choice, no argument there.
    As a native of MA, I would hate to see things drastically change in that area; it’s such a great place. Just a personal wish, of course and certainly one that’s easy for me to express.
    Others living there are certainly entitled to their own views and desires.

  5. Sheila Velazquez said on January 28th, 2009 at 7:52am #

    The population here is aging, and in order to keep the area viable, we have to encourage young families who value the lifestyle. That means access to technology–think of the home schoolers. The farmer milks his/her cows, then goes into the house and prepares a lesson plan. It’s happening. We need more children, and we need to provide a way for them to make a living so that they can afford to stay. Self-sustaining local economies, including small farmers, are the way to go if we are to attract young new residents.

  6. Ramsefall said on January 28th, 2009 at 8:37am #

    Thanks for the heads up, Sheila.

    It’s pathetic, or celebratory depending on the perspective, when what used to be the ¨greatest nation on Earth¨ disintegrates into a third world country that can’t keep up with the rest of the world or manage its own problems as it attempts to confront the problems of the world through brute force and arrogance to once again lead the world.

    I’ll let the false believers in on a little secret: the world doesn’t want to be led, especially by a nation that claims it has been chosen by God. What a bunch of horsesheot.

    Technology, access to health care, education…I hope the citizens have their life preservers handy — sink or swim.

    Good luck and best to all.