Life on the Wrong Side of the Digital Divide

I suppose I should have known better than to eavesdrop. But then, they could have spoken a bit more quietly. As it was, I was privy to a not-so-private conversation between some visitors to our county recently while waiting for a friend outside of a local restaurant.

They were nothing if not complimentary of our beautiful scenery. I agree with them wholeheartedly; we do have a pretty piece of countryside. But I can’t say I agree with their assessment that Sullivan County is lovely for providing a chance to truly escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

They love visiting the Catskills because it’s a place where their mobile phones don’t work, where there is no ding announcing an incoming email message. To them, this offers a respite from the day-to-day.

Let me be clear: they love visiting because of this “advantage.” They wouldn’t live here.

They likely couldn’t.

Not without those modern conveniences that so many depend on these days.

And this is where I am troubled by their assertions.

Living in a place so many would visit but would never call home isn’t lovely. It’s a problem.

How are we to attract real industry, real jobs, if we can’t even provide Internet access to all of our citizens? At least not access of the type required to visit any modern day webpage?

Need I remind you that beautiful scenery doesn’t pay the bills?

I didn’t speak up, didn’t insert myself into a conversation that I wasn’t a part of, but I wanted to. As it happens, I live here in the boonies, but I’m fortunate to live in a small pocket of the county that’s part of the digital age and thank goodness — it provides my livelihood. Without Internet access, without cellphone access, I couldn’t have my day job at a major American website. I couldn’t bring in a salary from outside of the area that I use in local businesses, that I use to pay local taxes.

I’m not unlike those visitors in that respect; I couldn’t live in much of Sullivan County either, my love for the area notwithstanding. I love this place, but I love being able to put food in my daughter’s belly all the more.

And so I’m growing increasingly frustrated to live in an area where the emphasis on beauty is accepted as an excuse not to push us forward into the 21st century.

We are living examples of what is known as the “digital divide.” We here in Sullivan County are the “information have nots.”

Our workers are the “information have nots.”

Our kids are the “information have nots.”

And people outside of here know it. According to federal statistics, in the state of New York, there is no one living outside of a rural community who can’t access high speed Internet. NO ONE. Residents of rural communities, on the other hand? More than 10 percent can’t. That’s a huge jump and a huge divide.

It says everything about what people outside of our community think of us. Sure, our hometowns are pretty, but they’d never live here and they’d never bring their businesses here.

And they’ll let us know it too … loudly.

My question: is anyone listening?

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  1. I couldn't agree more! Sure, it's beautiful to look at, but not from the side of a back road with little to no traffic and no cell service! It's not just frustrating and inconvenient, it's also unsafe.

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