This last installment of my analysis as to why rural America is shrinking has to do with the growing cultural trend towards a preference for entertainment experiences and the electronic filter of relationships through social media. The evaluation is more experiential than it is statistical, but certainly current lifestyle trends lend themselves more toward urban living than the traditional rural experience.
Case in point, my fondest memories from my youth are of sitting on the front porch of my grandparent’s home overlooking the bandstand in the center of the town square in a farm community of 1,300 people. We shucked corn, snapped beans, hulled peas, and cleaned fish while we listened to the St. Louis Cardinal on the radio. My most magical summer was the “Phold of 1964,” the year the Phillies collapsed in the last two weeks of the baseball season and were overtaken by my red-hot Cardinals. It was an experience that gelled families and communities all over the Midwest.
My seven city-raised children would blanch at the prospect of spending a summer of listening to the radio and in idle conversations on the topics of religion, politics, world and local news, and sports. My eleven grandchildren would ask about the strength of the WiFi signal on the porch, and tolerate the scene until allowed access to their gaming console again. Do I sound like I have lived during 70 decades?
Most of us can identify with this great generational divide on one side or the other. Whether social media, gaming, exotic vacations, movies, bingeing TV shows, etc. are more healthy and constructive than front-porch-sittin’ remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the change in culture has seriously impacted the perceived value of small communities. The “brain-drain” of our best and brightest to major universities and big jobs in big cities continues, with no end in sight.
What can, or should, rural communities do about this megatrend which is contributing significantly to our population loss? We certainly cannot compete with the entertainment and shopping venues of major metropolitan areas, and we would be foolish to try to a large degree. We would have a difficult time recruiting Fortune 500 companies to our county in order to offer the next generation world-class job options. We should do all we can to make high-speed Internet access broadly available across the county.
I believe we need to be who we are: a place that offers time for community and contemplation; a place that has the advantages of nature and the social and recreational aspects that come with it; a place that has history and played an important role in one of the most critical periods of American history; a place with time to love and to be loved. Sounds like heaven to me.
We need to be the best Bourbon County we can be. We need to lean into each other, support each other, and cultivate county-wide trust together. Someday, our culture will again want what we have, which I think represents the best of human nature. In the meantime, we wait, we work, we pray, we relate, and we build…together.