“Afloat in a Wireless Pond”

Posted on February 8, 2008 under digital history, me, minnesota

Talking about the internet is one of my favorite pastimes, as you may have noticed.  Mark your calendars for March 1, when I may possibly be talking about the internet in person with lots of other smart people (journalists!  librarians!  scholars!  writers!  etc!) at an event called “Afloat in a Wireless Pond.”

The event, supported by a grant from the Sesquicentennial Commission, is a co-production of the MN Coalition on Government Information and the MN Independent Scholars Forum.   It’s all day at Luther Seminary in St. Paul and costs twenty bucks (not sure if scholarships are available).

[The} digital revolution expands access to the records of Minnesota’s history at the same time it presents unprecedented challenges to those responsible for assuring transparency in government and an informed populace.  Henry David Thoreau might have observed that Minnesotans are “afloat in the wireless pond.”  He might also have advised taking time to stop and reflect on the meaning of it all.

Supported by the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission, Minnesotans will have just such an opportunity on Saturday, March 1, 2008.  One of the Sesquicentennial’s early events is a day-long conference aptly entitled “Afloat in the Wireless Pond”, described by planners as a chance to “celebrate by joining other Minnesotans to think about the changes the Internet is making in our lives and in the ways we explore the past, preserve the record of our own times, and shape public policies that enforce the people’s right to know, now and for the future.”

Coincidentally enough, I’ve been rereading Walden.  In the section called “Baker Farm,” Thoreau tells an anecdote about going fishing with John Field, a new immigrant.  HDT is having a successful day, catching a great string of fish, but John Field gets nothing.  HDT proposes they switch seats, but John Field still catches nothing.  In the context of the “wireless pond,” this is a heads up that the digital divide is a strong social factor.  The internet may have greatly changed the lives of some Minnesotans (including me!) and improved our access to many kinds of information, but there’s a whole class of digital have-nots that don’t yet have the resources to catch fish.

Let’s talk about it on March 1st!

3 Comments on ““Afloat in a Wireless Pond””

  1. We non-Minnesotans will watch with interest.

    That section of Walden, by the way, has always seemed to me some sort of metaphor for meddling know-it-all intellectuals and the working class.

    Thoreau comes upon the cabin of a poor family and is immediately driven to quoting poetry: “trivial cabin That to destruction steers.” John Field is going off to work as a day laborer to earn a little money to feed his family. Thoreau says no, let’s go fishing, and by the way you should live the way I do, the unexamined life blah blah blah. They go fishing (over the objections of Field’s wife if I recall correctly) and Field eventually goes homes with nothing for his family to eat. Thoreau does not even share his substantial string of fish with the Irish family, whom he saw to be hungry. Rather he congratulates himself for breaking Field out of his unphilospohical rut for a day.

    Sorry for the derail–great blog you have here! I just interviewed for a public history job and will continue to follow your work here with interest!

  2. Thanks, Larry!

    I agree with your interpretation that bit of Walden. Henry seems incapable of understanding his privilege, having read too much pastoral poetry.

    Now I’m not sure how far I can apply the metaphor to the digital divide! (I think we also need some new metaphors for the digital divide; I’m sick of talking about canyons, bodies of water, and bridges.)

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