Like some of my colleagues, I have been able to read only a portion of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. So far, I have found myself agreeing with a few of his ideas and disagreeing with most. On page 38, Toffler writes that “time passes more swiftly for the old,” then goes into a detailed explanation of why that is the case. Personally, I couldn’t agree with that more. As a young boy, there were plenty of times when two hours felt like twelve hours. Nowadays, depending on what I’m doing, two hours can feel like two minutes. Then, there are other ideas of his, such as the concept of “parental professionals” on page 216, which I feel are way out there. Of what I have read so far, Toffler’s depiction of transience is one that I can relate to and that I am a part of. On page 74, Toffler states that “the professional and technical populations are among the most mobile of all Americans.” After all, I consider myself a professional and I have moved five times in my life. (Granted, a couple of the moves were for the sole purpose of getting out of an apartment and into a house, but they were moves nonetheless, and I think five moves is a lot for a guy who’s only 40.) For this post, however, I want to take his idea of transience in a different direction. From what I have read, Toffler has looked at how transience affects humans. I argue that transience also has an effect on communities, especially small communities.
To explain this, I refer to a text given to me by my boss, Hollowing Out the Middle by Carr and Kefelas (2009). This text explains a qualitative study performed by the authors, who lived in the small farming community of Ellis, Iowa for 18 months in order to determine which people tended to move from Ellis, which people stayed long-term, and why these people made their decisions. In the study, Carr and Kefelas discovered that the children who performed well academically throughout their school years wound up going to college, but they very rarely came back to Ellis after graduation. As a result, the quality and economy of the town is in a constant state of decline. My boss, who is the executive director of Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8 (my current place of employment), gave this book to all IU employees because he saw a connection between the content of this book and the struggles many of the rural communities in our Intermediate Unit’s 35 school districts are facing today.
When Toffler wrote Future Shock, he saw California as the preferred destination for the professional community. I don’t necessarily agree that this is the case today, but I do see a trend similar to what Toffler depicts in his work and what Carr and Kefelas witnessed in their study happening in small towns across this region. People from these towns are not all striving to go to California, but they are looking to go to places that give them the opportunity to advance their careers. I’m one of those people. I moved away from my hometown of Robinson, Pennsylvania in 1994 to pursue a teaching career. I moved again in 1997, this time to northern Virginia, to pursue what I thought at the time was a better career opportunity. I eventually changed careers and wound up relocating back to Pennsylvania in 2006. It was mainly for family reasons, but it was also an opportunity for career advancement. That being said, I did not go back to Robinson. Instead, I ended up in Hollidaysburg because the job is based in Altoona and, quite frankly, living in Hollidaysburg provides more for my family than what Robinson can.
I am not saying that Robinson is a horrible place to live. After all, my mother still lives there. Robinson is located on the southeastern tip of Indiana County with a current population of 483 (Zip Codes Finder, 2011). When I was a young boy growing up in Robinson, there were four churches, three general stores, an auto mechanic shop, a bar, a post office, and an elementary school. Our neighboring town across the Conemaugh River, Bolivar, boasted a movie theater, bowling alley, bank, fire hall, ambulance station, hardware store, two gas stations, and a handful of eating establishments. As the years went by, professionals such as me moved away from these towns and the coal mines that employed the majority of the male population closed down. As a result, only two churches, one store, and the post office remain in Robinson today, but honestly, the store is a shell of its former self. The movie theater, gas stations, eateries, bank, and ambulance station in Bolivar are also now distant memories. Putting this into perspective, seven years ago, I drove some friends of mine from Virginia through Bolivar on the way to my boyhood home as part of a getaway day we were on. They joked that I was taking them through a third-world country. Need I say any more about how the concept of transience has affected and will continue to affect small towns? I think not.
Carr, P. J. & Kefelas, M. J. (2009). Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America. Boston: Beacon Press
Toffler, A. (1970). Future Shock. New York: Random House
Zip Codes Finder. (2011). Robinson, PA. Retrieved November 11, 2011 from http://www.aresllc.com/zip-codes-finder/robinson-pa-15949.html