June 7, 2010

Why I write this site

I first started writing Living in Dryden because the 2003 local elections taught me that many people had little idea of what was going on around them. It wasn't just that they were too busy or uninterested to find out - that's normal in a busy world - it was that it was frequently difficult to find out.

Even though the Ithaca Journal was a far better paper in 2003 than it is today, most Dryden news went unreported (or at times, misreported) in its pages. The Dryden Courier had more thorough weekly Dryden coverage, but is still a Dryden/Lansing/Groton mixture. At least it hasn't declined. The Cortland Standard's coverage is often excellent but occasional, and their delivery only reaches the east side of Dryden.

It isn't just the media, though. I moved into my house right after an election in which the incumbent supervisor, Jim Schug, had questioned why anyone would want to read Town Board minutes on a website. For that one comment, I was delighted he'd lost - replaced by Mark Varvayanis, who had insisted that Town Board minutes should reach the Web. Fortunately, the Town's website has continued to improve, covering more and more each year.

Why do these things matter so much to me?

It may have something to do with my two years delivering papers in high school, or something to do with my twenty years of work on computers and hypertext, which transform our ability to actually get this kind of information out cheaply. It might have something to do with my mother's time on the school board, which saw a steady flow of large piles of paper delivered to our house.

One moment, though, really crystallized things for me. I grew up in a wonderful city not too far away, but a place dominated by a firm that responded with outrage when the local paper (rightly, I believe) dared question its prospects. I knew then that returning to Corning would be difficult. It simply didn't make sense to live in a place where a company, especially a company a town depended on, believed it had the right to control the flow of information.

Ever since then, I've taken the willingness to share information as a key sign of just interested those who have power are in those around them who depend on them. It doesn't have to be outright abuse to make me shake my head - there are many kinds of non-cooperation that can be strikingly effective in smothering conversation and changing the rules of the game. When I see people with power trying to avoid disclosing information that has an impact on their neighbors or constituents, I'm automatically suspicious. I'm not surprised that the opposite of transparency is usually corruption.

Valuing openness is one thing, though. Actually increasing the flow of information is much more difficult. Government and companies certainly publicize some of their actions very well, but most information, even if it's available, requires a request. Not only does it require making a request, it requires knowing what to request, and sometimes when to request it.

Living in Dryden, though not as busy a place as it once was (sorry!), continues to be my way of encouraging that information flow, of making sure that public information is available and stays available. I hope this site encourages people trying to find their way through a strange mixture of not enough information and too much information, letting them find what they need and teaching them how to find more.

It's not all about government or corporations, of course - there are many other important things in Dryden. Making sure information gets shared, though, is at the heart of why I do this, why I participate in politics, and how I hope to help build our community. Knowing more about the place you live in and how it works can change your perspective on what's possible.

Posted by simon at June 7, 2010 10:55 PM in
Note on photos


Nick B said:

Hey Simon, I love this site. It has definitely given me a lead or two over the past year. Thanks!

Nick Babel (Formerly Dryden Courier now w/ Tompkins Weekly)

Mike Lane said:

Simon, your blog has been a wonderful addition to the community of Dryden. You have published hundreds of articles and kept people informed. Local news is always scarce.

I remember how A. K. Fletcher, who published the Dryden "Rural News" weekly from 1935 into the late 1960's, marveled at your articles and photos. Coming from him it was a perceptive comment and a real compliment. He had been there himself.

We have missed the volume of your "reporting" but understand your devotion to your family and that they must be your first consideration.

In the end, we have to remember that "Living in Dryden" is really your personal blog, and is not a newspaper, even though we have come to rely on it.

We appreciate what you do. Thanks for this post about what influenced you to come to Dryden, and how you planned to use your blog to enlighten people and to make a difference. You HAVE made a difference, and continue to do so for the best of all possible reasons. Dryden is a better place to live thanks to your efforts.