"Between Local and Global: Premonitions of Digital Montana"
Willard Uncapher
Brief Overview

I. Introduction

I have long been collecting material exploring the impact of new communication technologies on the vibrant life of rural Montana. I am not interested in the mere presence or choice of electronic networks, but in how they are used and thought about: How should they be used? When should they not be used? How would you chose one network or medium over another? What local uses have you heard about? What role do you see them playing in the changing regional economic, civic, and educational life? I am not seeking to promote or discourage the use of any communication technology. The findings will ideally be of value to people interested in Montana, in the use of the Internet in rural and developing areas, in 'cyberspace and network theory.' This research has been ongoing since the late 1980s when I began work on the Big Sky Telegraph project (search on this term). At present, limitations in research funding and time have narrowed my focus. I have tried to share my goals, findings, and reasoning online where possible.

All contributions to this effort will be very much appreciated, and I hope to find a way to integrate all contributors views into a final product/s. Please note that any information that you deem confidential will remain so, and will be disclosed only with your permission. The more information I get, the better the final product can be, and the more information that will be available for future historians and researchers as well. We live during an important period of transition from the era of ‘mass media’ to something more complex, even if the mass media are still important; from an era of the dominance of the nation-state to one accompanied by both an increasing importance of local and community identities and transnational flows of information, capital, people, materials, media products, and ideas. What are the conflicts, the opportunities, and dangers?

I am well-versed in many fields, ranging from the study of new media technologies and policy; organizational management and new communication technologies; social and cultural theory and practice; complexity theory and hierarchy theory; large scale media history against a global background; the performance and theory of the 'fine arts' and the future of the interface; and community development. I tend to think of my writing as ‘audience driven’ in that I try to meet the needs of my audience, working with their understanding, terms, and expectations to develop broader contexts and reliable strategies. I am interested in bringing different audiences together for shared goals and outcomes.

II. The Research

The current research extends my previous studies of the introduction of electronic networking to rural Montana by considering the conflicts between concurrent processes of ‘globalization’ and ‘localization,’ and the kinds of spaces that are developing ‘in between.’ My Montana research began in the late 1980s with a modest field based exploration of the social and cultural impact of the Big Sky Telegraph. This innovative project sought to link together potentially 114 one room school houses throughout Montana with each other and the outside world via a low cost, low maintenance electronic network. As part of my research, I visited teachers, ranchers, administrators, parents, tax payers, cyber-activists, and so on to capture something of the 'cultural politics', mythology, and opportunities of the then very new mode of this low cost, 'locally' controlled mode of communication.

As part of my current phase of research on globalization, localization, and the space ‘in between,’ I have conducted face to face interviews individuals up and down the Western part of the state, from ‘Lima to Libby’ and eastwards to Great Falls. This has been supplemented by material collected online and off from throughout Montana. I have interviewed, contacted, and/or corresponded with many ISP providers, small and large business owners and managers, politicians ranging from local planners to state officials, law enforcement and medical care providers, community and environmental activists, ranchers and farmers, other researchers and demographers, bankers and financial investment brokers, educational activists, educators, (and where permissible, students) ranging from pre-school to graduate level, from home schooling to state school, media providers of many sorts, and cybernauts who call Montana their physical home.

Briefly stated for a research oriented audience, my work proposes considering the importance of these spaces ‘in between’ as crucial to the development of new theories and research protocols with which to describe and model the complex and dynamic region between mass and interpersonal communication, between protocols using abstractive, statistical data based on assumptions of data equivalence and representativeness, and strategies and models based on hermeneutical close readings of highly localized patterns of assessment, resistance, and production.

Central to my work will be the development of a theory of cultural complexity and what I call a theory of ‘dynamic social hierarchy,’ or dynamic network hierarchy, an approach indicative of the interdependence of post-modern electronic environments, processes, and agents. My extension of hierarchy theories is particularly interested in how these environments, processes, and agents organize and are organized in turn by material environments characterized by constrictive processes of extraction, processing, flow, control, and the often unbalanced exchange of limited material resources and entities.I will be looking at how hierarchy serves to organize complexity and distribute risk, as well as mechanisms of appropriation, scale, boundary, identity, agency, and strategy. The research will assess, for example, such problematic boundaries as between online world and the off, and issues of economies of scale amid a growing diversity in some economic, social, and cultural niches. And finally the presentation will explore problems with the existing state and assumptions of current social and cultural theory.

My work will of interest to business leaders seeking to assess the changing economic dynamic associated with globalization, as well as to activists of all sorts seeking to respond to these changes in ways that protect the community, the environment and promote values of understanding and compassion. I believe that the larger, historical picture of the media, cultural, and social change we are currently undergoing has been obscured, and hope to employ many of the new sciences, an historical perspective, and an understanding of the actual mechanics and hardware of many of the new communication technologies to present ways of assessing what has happened and what will happen.

Willard Uncapher