On Writing from the Boonies

By Nathaniel Mott , written on April 3, 2012

From The News Desk

In Upstate New York, it's easier to find a drug dealer than it is a decent Internet connection. This is the region that has decided to make a name for itself, growing grapes and outsourcing any labor-intensive work to the Amish, while the rest of us attempt to find something, anything to do.

I recently wrote a piece about how the Web is removing barriers to entry for a variety of professions, and I still stand by my original assertion: This is the best time to be working as a creative professional. One thing I didn't make clear was that location still matters, whether I like it or not.

My home Internet connection averages at a breakneck 0.3 MBPS download speed. For comparison, Verizon's 3G network often beats that without breaking a sweat. Traveling four miles in either direction, I could get 17 MBPS down, which is a bit like holding a water bottle in front of a man that's wandering around the desert. While the connection is slow (and I'm certainly not going to actually die from this connection), it does make my job more difficult.

Consider the time that I had to drive an hour to the nearest mall in order to take advantage of a cafe's free WiFi, because I didn't trust Skype on my home connection. That wasn't the bad part, as I was heading out to the mall anyway. No, the real kicker was that the cafe was full up, and I had to sit in the main part of the mall, as I spoke to a source about an exclusive.

Picture this: a nineteen year old kid sitting on a metal chair with his MacBook on the table in front of him, one arm pressing his iPhone into his ear in an attempt to hear the person on the other end, while the other hand is busy jamming his index finger into his earlobe in an effort to block out all other noise. Now imagine the dance that this guy does as he attempts to take notes on his computer or, heaven forbid, get a word in edgewise.

That was my nightmare, and yes, I did look every bit as insane as you just imagined. I was like a cross between a contortionist and a writer, writhing and dancing my way through a conversation that I was only able to follow, due to the graciousness of the speaker on the other end and by sheer force of will.

Beyond the woes of finding a decent Internet connection, location plays another important role in my day-to-day life: I am more likely to be struck by lightning than I am to meet a person working in the startup or technology industries. In a land where Windows XP is still the norm, and where there's this strange emphasis on actually leaving the house, any fortuitous meetings or possible coffee house bribings are almost guaranteed not to happen.

While I am able to do my job, and all of these complaints happen to fall under the ever-delightful #firstworldproblems banner, this is an important followup to my earlier piece. Location is less important now than it was before, but that doesn't mean that it's completely irrelevant.

In our current times, it's easy to underestimate the importance of a handshake or a shared meal. While sources may enjoy the publicity they can get if I write a post about them, I imagine that tongues would be more loosed by a few drinks (which, incidentally, I couldn't supply anyway, but that's neither here nor there) or a free meal than a couple of emails.

I'll be moving soon, but for now I'm still reporting from the Middle of Nowhere, New York, where the Internet feels like molasses and no one outside of a college campus even owns a relatively new computer. If sources grew on trees I'd have it made, but for now I'm happy to look the fool in a crowded mall and curse Skype as it dies on my too-slow connection.

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