It seems fitting to open with a post on the generic. And why not begin with the stereotypes that always seem to face us Norfolk folk.
Three years ago I left for university and, after living my first 18 years in Norfolk, I found myself 6 hours away in Lancashire. More importantly, my new home was Lancaster University. Now, after coping without your mum to do your washing/cooking etc, the steepest learning curve when you go to university comes from the diverse mixture of people you are thrown in amongst
Until you really get to know people from different regions you cannot quite appreciate the way in which geographical location genuinely influences you. ‘Northerners’ and ‘Southerners’ do, generally, have different approaches to the world. And these differences become more and more local; Lancastrians and Yorkshiremen; those from Leeds and those from Harrogate. And so on and on.
However, everyone seems to share similar views when it comes to our beloved county.
As I introduced myself to new people and proudly explained where I was from I was often met with an almost sympathetic look. Phrases such as ‘middle of nowhere’ and ‘country bumpkin’ became all too common. Jokes about inbreeding were never far away either. Although I would defend the county best I could… “Norwich does have two large shopping malls now”… “The Canaries are a football team to be proud of you know”… you couldn’t hide certain facts. It never failed to surprise my new acquaintances, for example, that you have to drive for a couple of hours before you find a motorway. Furthermore the figureheads and celebrities of Norfolk were not Nelson and Stephen Fry as I’d hoped but instead The Darkness and Alan Partridge. You couldn’t escape the notion that Norfolk is not taken particularly seriously.
I was never downbeat about this though, at least we can laugh at ourselves eh?! Instead I secretly celebrated where I was from; I am proud of my county and it is a lovely place to live. In fact, when a flat mate from Manchester drove her car up to Lancaster I couldn’t help but feel slightly smug when she couldn’t work out how to put her lights on full beam – she’d only ever driven under street lights so had never had to use them before.
However I have since graduated and moved back to Norfolk and I can’t help but notice that there is some truth nestled amongst the jibes that come from the rest of the country. When they say ‘middle of nowhere’ they have a point… but not just in the nice, peaceful sense of the phrase.
Whilst there the undoubted quiet of the countryside is an obvious plus, this is set against the undoubted quiet we experience when we set foot in the digital landscape that is the internet. In a time of such technological advance and dependence this isn’t such a plus. Everywhere you look at the moment there seems to be a Smartphone, an online forum, or a Tweet. More and more areas of our lives are heading online… a business will have a website that will link to a Twitter account and a Facebook page as well as a regular blog. This internet ‘chain’ goes on and on… and that is what everyone is currently embracing – complete and utter mass connectivity. Millions of people rely on the internet to stay up-to-date and in the loop. Perhaps this is the reason I feel so compelled to make something of The Loddon Eye…
However the grey cloud that comes with this silver lining is that Norfolk, along with hundreds of other rural locations, is somewhat handicapped. As the whole world heads online to catch the TV shows they have missed, we are stuck in front of blank screens as the content ‘buffers’. Our internet connection is just not up to scratch. It cannot support this expanding online world. And what is most worrying is that this online world is the future. If we don’t want to be left in the ‘middle of nowhere’ when it comes to the digital tomorrow then we need a change.
Unfortunately the longer BT, or any other service provider, takes to actually provide the internet service we need, the more it suggests they don’t think we need it. Which is plain wrong. In reality surely it is rural areas that are most in need of a fast connection to the rest of the world? As rural areas are increasingly neglected by those with the key to the online future, the more typical stereotypes are becoming enforced. It becomes hard to prove our county can hold its all with the urban areas stepping out into the digital wilderness when nobody will provide us with the internet speeds that are becoming necessary equipment for the online expedition. Unfortunately we would just have to accept the tag ‘back of beyond’, at least in terms of our online participation.
Let’s just hope and pray that it is not long before we can all be as connected as we need to be whilst this digital landscape develops before our eyes…