Thursday, March 17, 2005

Southern culture and technological shortcomings

My initial thought in going to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area was that technology (or the ability to easily access it) in the form of wi-fi availability would not be an issue.

Prior to leaving Maine for my week in the sun to watch my son and his Wheaton College mates play nine games on their annual Florida pre-season trip, I checked a couple of websites that catalogue wi-fi availability around the country. It appeared that Florida would have more than it actually does.

A casual walk around Portland, Maine (my home state's largest city) would reveal an abundance of opportunities for whipping out one’s laptop and having immediate capabilities of updating your blog, accessing email, or surfing the web. Not so in the Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater area. How is this possible? Maine as a state has slightly more people than the Tampa Bay region has, yet at least in Portland (and most towns with a library), opportunities exist that allow you to quickly be up and running with a laptop.

One of Maine’s forward-thinking nods to technology was updating all of the state’s libraries in order to provide wireless internet access to anyone with a laptop. This is not available in Florida, even though the numerous libraries appear to be decent and have computers with internet access. Maine’s governor, John Baldacci, and several other state officials deserve credit for recognizing the importance of technology, as well as making it available to all Maine’s residents, not just those who can afford it.

While one could make a case for going on vacation and leaving the cares of blogging behind, I felt the need to put up a few posts while away. Not only did I feel a need to, I wanted to put some pictures up and comment a bit about my trip.

Despite some of the technological shortcomings, there appears to be a pocket of progressive activism, as well as the presence of a cutting-edge artistic community in this area, deep within the heart of the southern, red belt region of the U.S. While country music and right-wing talk radio certainly exists in no small supply here in the land of sunshine, Jesus, and Clear Channel, one can tune in independent, community radio stations like WMNF-88.5 in Tampa, and catch programming like I did tonight (Wednesday). The locally-produced program featured the music of the likes of Henry Kaiser and other avant-garde artists such as Captain Beefheart, as well as Chris Cutler to name a few.

This same station also carries assorted NPR programming such as Terri Gross and Fresh Air, as well as Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. While in town, I listened as much as I could to the opinionated progressive radio emanating from the far-left end of my radio dial.

It’s encouraging to know that despite the right-wing grandstanding about Terri Schiavo (one of the big news stories down here, as well as nationally, I’m sure) and the case involving prolonging the life of someone clearly incapable of maintaining the most basic of human functions, the case has elicited some spirited op eds and clearly, not everyone in Florida shares the views of the right-to-life, bible brigade.

I’ve found the St. Petersburg Times to be an excellent newspaper, informative, editorially strong and well-staffed with a stable of writers covering both local and nationally news with an eye towards journalistic integrity. The Tampa Tribune on the other hand, appears to have a right-wing slant that one might expect in a media market controlled by corporate news, acting out their roles of Republican lackeys. It’s obvious in listening to radio for any length of time down here that corporate ideology rules the airwaves, in one of the major media markets in the country.

Now if the state could at least upgrade their libraries and have them wired to allow wi-fi access at their local library branches, then this major sunbelt metropolis might be worth considering as a future alternative to the cold and snow of the northeast, for the short-term, or even longer.

No comments: