Welcome to Rust Belt Thinking

I was drinking my coffee this morning and reading our local paper, The Plain Dealer, as I do every morning (yes, I still believe in newspapers in print). Aside from reading about the decimation of the Cleveland Indians (the good news? they still have Grady), I came upon this article and almost spluttered my coffee across the patio.

It seems that Ohio’s Dept. of Transportation is thinking about using Twitter as a means of informing the community about accidents, blockages, “orange barrel season” (what others call “spring”). Thinking. Pondering. Dragging their feet. And, yes, welcome to Rust Belt Thinking… ultimately believing that the way we do it now and have done it for years is just fine and therefore the way it shall be for the foreseeable future.

The Ohio Department of Transportation remains unconvinced that social-media sites are the best way to communicate, although the agency is looking into how other states do it, said spokesman Scott Varner.

“The traditional forms of how we reach people work pretty well,” Varner said.

They include setting up portable electronic message boards on highways and contacting local media, as was the case last fall when ODOT had to suddenly close lanes on the deteriorating Inner Belt Bridge in Cleveland.

Electronic message boards + Deteriorating bridges…hmmmmm

Michigan (our equally impoverished but oh so much more with it neighbor to the north west) and their dept of transportation has been using Twitter and YouTube and even (gasp) Facebook for their updates..

Mr Varner’s reasons for not wanting to use Twitter sound remarkably similar to the pushback our schools give to their teachers when thinking about adopting new tools for teaching and learning.

“We want to make sure that if we decide to use some of the social-networking sites we do it properly,” Varner said.

In other words, they want to have complete control of the information.

“The other challenge of Twitter is the expectation of an almost constant flow of information,” Varner said….”I am not sure that taxpayers of Ohio want to see the Ohio Department of Twittering,” he said. Varner also wondered if employees would spend an inordinate amount of time updating social-networking sites. “They want to know that we use those networking sites for the right reasons and state employees on taxpayer time are not simply twittering.”

In other words…we want to have complete control of our employees too.

Thankfully the smart people in Washington State Dept of Transportation responded to this:

While there is pressure to continually update Twitter, four or five posts a day work well, said Melanie Coon, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Transportation, a pioneer in the use of social media. It began using Twitter in March 2008 and has about 6,000 followers.

The article continues:

“Posting on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook does not require additional employees or take much time, said Hicks [Michigan] and Coon [Washington State]. They provide information about construction projects and road closings. And motorists use Twitter to send comments about roads and accidents to transportation officials. Twitter allows messages of 140 characters or fewer, so many posts include links to news releases or Web sites.

And we wonder why Ohio might not ever make it out of this recession?

The comments from readers (on the web based version of this article) say it all:

With Ohioans general fear of technology and modern social developments, I’d say they’ll get on Facebook in about 20 years or so. I think we’re just about as economically and technologically retarded as Alabama.

“The traditional forms of how we reach people work pretty well,” Varner said.”
A newspaper article tomorrow will help me avoid lane closures this morning… Genius plan there Varner!

…and my personal favorite…insert sarcastic tone…

“I can’t understand why young people are leaving the state in droves.”

To read the on-line version of this article in its entirety, and read the comments from the readership, click here.

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!

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  1. Leslie M-B · July 30, 2009 Reply

    Hilarious comments! Your have my sympathies. Also, you’re welcome to move out to my coast anytime. . .

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