Monday, May 17, 2004

Jessica mentioned this post during our tour of Millbrook Marsh on Saturday. Came across the blog on a random trawl. The author, Laura, wonders what us folks in the "Alabama" between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia do for a living, worrying that the information technology revolution has passed us by.

Well, from an informal poll, I'd guess that we're doing IT sorts of things. Jessica runs her own ISP, and those of my friends who haven't been hired here at the IT company I work for are either employed by the university in IT work, or actual students. Some folks work for survey calling centres.

But the young folk abandoning the hill country for the big lights of the big city is hardly an artifact of the 21st century, you know. The last great diaspora filled the rust belt with hill folk - in Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. Folks didn't much notice, outside of Detroit, because the influx was lost in the statistical noise, or was less distinct than the Southern Black migration to those same cities at about the same time, for about the same reasons. After all, Appalachian whites - Germans and Scotch-Irish, mostly - look like America. What Archie Bunker, in that priceless line about a "balanced ticket", called "Regular Americans". But it was a migration, all the same.

Some of the current internal migration is flowing to the research cities - the university towns which act as cultural rallying stands for the aspirations of the mountains. Knoxville. State College. Blacksburg. North Carolina's Research Triangle. Other towns and colleges familiar to themselves, if no-one else.

But don't imagine this is a new problem. Whiskey, hogs, cattle, coal, video monitors, light plastics, calling centres, IT shops - it's all come, and it all will go. The only reliable export of mountain country has always been the people themselves.

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