Brady and Brandon went flying in an airplane today and I found myself in Charleston, West Virginia. I had never been into the city before, just driven past it on a tour with Welch & Penn so I was excited about the prospect of exploring. While I expected to bum around and eventually find a library to do some writing, I lucked out and happened to hit the day of the Vandalia Gathering, a huge culture and folk art festival right on the state house green.
As part of the festival, the capital building was open to the public and I was able to go inside and walk around. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture, but I can’t help but find a gross sense of indulgence in a giant diamond chandelier suspended in the heart of coal country:
I walked around and interviewed local authors, artists, and farmers with booths at the Vandalia Gathering about their work and their thoughts on technology in West Virginia.
The first person I interviewed was author Pat Call whose new novel Nadine chronicles the life of her mother and, through that individual tale, the culture and history of Appalachia. She was incredibly kind and when I explained the scope and purpose of my digital divide project she was supportive, telling me that so much of this state does without technology and that it’s a serious crutch to political involvement. On a lighter note, she also taught me the word “skedaddle,” which is an amazing piece of West Virginia slang.
In need of a snack, I made my way over to Mountain Momma Organics and bought myself a delicious Buckwheat, Dark Chocolate, Cranberry granola bar. Then I talked with owners Kim and Keith Finger about farming, business both in and out of state, and the importance of sustainable eating. When we got to technology some key quotes that stuck out to me were:
“We’re very slow at accepting new technology in the state…This state is five years or even more behind in technology… the average person here is not really knowledgeable in those ways”
“The computer and digital technology and technology in general is very, very enabling its more than just a time saver, it’s a thing that gives you the platform… it is really foundational…It’s [technology] a teacher”
Check them out on Facebook and do your taste buds a favor and give their granola bars, and other scrumptious goodies, a try!
Next, I spoke with Wes Harris who collected manuscripts of West Virginia history and compiled them into revolutionary and controversial texts. One thing Wes pointed out to me when discussing the history of the West Virginia mine wars was that when, “the telegraph wires had all been cut and the only command center on Blair Mountain was Bill Blizzard.” In thinking about what Keith told me, it seems that this state has always been a few years behind in technology. When other parts of the nation were moving on from the telegraph, or at the very least had the infrastructure for quick repairs, West Virginia remained in silence whenever telegraph lines had been tampered with. Communication technology isn’t new, at one point the written letter was just as revolutionary as a tweet, and as long as there’s been a way to communicate through a medium there’s been a digital divide.
Finally, I had a chance to speak Kevin Stitzinger whose stone work was simply amazing. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to stick around and chat because his booth was gathering a crowd and I didn’t want to impede his sales. But Kevin was the interim director of The Mountain Institute a non-profit founded in Spruce Knob, West Virginia that works in outdoor education in mountain communities both in Appalachia and around the world in order to meet both ecological and economic needs of the people and create sustainable solutions to the problems facing these areas.
The West Virginians I met in Charleston today, both the ones featured here and others, are people locally focused who want to see their state grow, thrive, and compete in the digital age. They are dedicated to the future of West Virginia and that is an inspiring atmosphere to be working and writing in.