Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Webfoot Wednesday: Geography

On this day in 1898, the first steam locomotive pulled into the small eastern Oregon town of Moro. Completion of the Columbia Southern Railroad to Moro was occasion for celebration, connecting as it did the region's wheat farmers with shipping terminals on the Columba River and thence on to the wider world of commerce.*

We are perched upon the cusp of an interesting new era when geographic location may become less significant in mediating where we can live and work. Telecommuters can work from anywhere they have access to an Internet signal; data processing facilities for companies such as Google and Facebook, similarly unencumbered, seek geographic attributes far different from the transportation network links that once were so essential. Today, it is conditions like a mild, dry climate and favorable tax conditions that draw these corporations to formerly peripheral (but physically gorgeous) locations from The Dalles to Prineville.

One of the predominant narratives of the twentieth century was the enduring pattern of migration from rural areas to urban regions and the new sprawl of the Sunbelt. As someone interested in migration history, I am curious to see how the new geographic paradigm of the Internet age affects these processes. Will these conditions spell the salvation of the small town, or will lack of educational access and capital continue to spell the doom of rural and small-town America? The changing parameters of our relationship to the rest of the world are as potentially revolutionary as the steam locomotive that pulled into Moro in 1898.

* James Cloutier, This Day in Oregon (Eugene, Ore.: Image West Press, 1982)

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