The Middle of Nowhere, Everywhere

This morning as I read “The Middle of Everywhere,” the most recent post from one of my favorite (and one of the most widely followed) bloggers, Seth Godin, I found myself both inspired and mildly disturbed.  His brief entry (Seth’s posts are often very brief) set me spinning.

He wrote: “If the railroad didn't make it to your town, or if the highway didn't have an exit, or if you were somehow off the beaten path, we wrote you off. Your town was in the middle of nowhere. Now, of course, if wireless signal can reach you, you're now in the middle of everywhere, aren't you?”

My first thought was how it seems that brevity is the new bravado. These compact contributions from this popular thought leader always make me think, WWED? What Would Emily (Dickinson) Do? What if this 19th century poet, who packed so much brilliance into so few lines, had had wireless access? Imagine if her ideas had reached the same number of readers as Seth Godin’s. I don't know if she could have kept pace with Seth in terms of output, but she was prolific in her time, having crafted an estimated 1,800 poems. How different our dear Emily’s life would have been if her succinct, impactful messages had reached the masses via the World Wide Web!

"The Middle of Everywhere," immediately fired up a kind of hope in me— which lasted only about as long as it took to read the three sentences he wrote. The potential that there is opportunity for everyone, everywhere, to have their voice be heard via wireless access is thrilling. Picture the number of  shy, quiet poets, philosophers, academics, and artists that can now connect to millions of eyeballs. 

It’s encouraging to think how the world of work and leadership can potentially change as a result. Leadership is no longer relegated to the boardroom or dictated from the top. The promise of fresh perspective and innovate ideas bubbling up from “the people” holds so much hope for change at every level. Our existing institutions, education, healthcare, religion, all need a shakeup. From the quietest corner in the most remote location anywhere in the world could come the loudest voice, the strongest leader. Opportunity for new vision can come from everywhere and anywhere.

Yet, it took less than a minute for my hope-filled response to be put in check. The reality is that for far too many students in our urban and rural areas there is still no wireless at home. In many cases, there isn’t even working internet at home. While educational leaders are pushing out the Flipped Classroom and other new methods of teaching and learning in our schools, it seems that not enough attention is being paid to whether these students who are sent off to complete their "24/7" learning actually have the technology and the tools they need at home to keep up.

Teachers in urban districts are finally adapting to and embracing technology in the classroom, but the fact remains that far too many students are left in the middle of nowhere because they don’t have equal access to equipment and the internet. As the transformation in education continues to encourage learning outside of the classroom for all students, I wonder if we aren’t actually widening the path to nowhere for those who are traditionally under-served?

Years ago I came across a quote from one of the first issues of  Fast Company magazine. It was a brilliant ad campaign that Intel ran during the Dot.com era. The Internet was promising to be everything. The ads showcased the answers from famous celebrities who were asked the question, "What do you want the Internet to be?" It was Carlos Santana's response that I ripped out of the magazine, laminated, and still carry with me to every new job or assignment I take on. His response was, “A road to a world with no borders, no boundaries, no flags, no countries. Where the heart is the only passport you carry.”

It is my hope that simple words continue to fuel big ideas and we keep equity and heart at the forefront of transformation as the Internet invites all voices to be in the middle of everywhere.

Susan Ahlstrom is Director of Development at the Academy for Career Exploration based in Rhode Island. She has worked for years to help people and organizations connect and achieve their full potential. Susan helped launch one of the first Body Shop franchises in the U.S. and is the founder of Duende Networks, LLC, a consulting company that provides coaching and resources for women and teens, empowering them to lead healthier, more expansive lives. Susan has three children and recently moved to RI to be closer to the inspiration and energy of the ocean.