The “Repop” Hypothesis

Imagine a fellow running a successful (I gather, by the looks of it) web business called www.associateprograms.com from Tuan, a little fishing village (without a shop) in subtropical Queensland, Australia. (Neither I nor my firm nor any of my relatives or friends have any business ties whatsoever with this venture.)

“The noisiest things here are usually blue-faced honey-eaters, friar birds and rainbow lorikeets squabbling in the grevillea bushes and gum trees. When we hear a car, we look out and see who it is. We’re about as close to the beach as you could get,” says the fellow, Allan Gardyne.

Confession: I don’t know what a blue-faced honey-eater looks like nor a grevillea bush nor a friar bird nor a rainbow lorikeet, for that matter.

A further confession: I don’t need to know because just the words, of and by themselves, are like Roman candles in my mind. I defy you to say “blue-faced honey-eater” or “rainbow lorikeet” without smiling.

Now, should your eyes start misting over and your brain start calculating your frequent flyer miles, let me add that all is not idyllic there in subtropical Queensland.

Allan writes me that he’s recently cut his hours down to 12 a day. And that he will soon take the first day off he’s had since Christmas — and that only to attend a “Farming of the Future” show.

Still, it sounds like a pretty good gig, yes?

I mean, here in the Grand World Mall, as we all celebrate the triumph of unfettered capitalism (freed from those embarrassing moral roots that are just so hard to explain, even to fellow Protestants), this beach gig with rainbow lorikeets squabbling in the grevillea bushes — well, face it, it’s a waking dream.

I’ve recounted this anecdote because it fits with a theory that’s been bouncing around my skull for about two years.

Throughout America and the great wide world, there are little places of unexpected beauty and, sometimes, big places of perfectly expected beauty. When you see them, you may think to yourself: “Wouldn’t it be great to live there? If only I could make a living.” [Sigh issuing forth the sound of a dream balloon losing its air.]

Well, my theory is that the web may be in the process of making this possible.

It is not hard to imagine — given adequate information infrastructure, which could be via satellite (I know, I’m sort of blithely smoothing over that part) — that groups of knowledge workers may repopulate whole sections of America: Those communities that the railroad bypassed and “company towns” that lost their defining companies.

I use the word “repopulate” with reluctance because it means that an area was, at one time, populated. I do think it is important that there be some sort of community in place — with grocery stores, etc. — to support an influx of new residents. But, as the Tuan anecdote shows, I don’t want to limit this idea only to once-thriving towns.

An entire programming division of a software company could relocate to some place in New Mexico or Nebraska or rural Illinois. A web-based customer support center could be located in Brenham, Texas, a town that’s surrounded by rolling green hills with, seemingly at least, a white German farmhouse atop each one.

Now, you might want to be relatively close to some city that has a well-served airport. But I’m not sure. This relocation — if in sufficient numbers — would stimulate new businesses like pizza restaurants and laundromats and service stations.

In any case, isn’t this an intriguing notion — especially for states that have seen “out-migration” by their young folks? These states should start making very public and well-promoted investments in wiring likely spots.

In fact, though it’s not popular right now to ask anything of our Federal government except, of course, subsidies for things our representatives can eventually put their names on, it would seem a very good idea for Uncle Sam to be helping these states, perhaps offering tax credits for these “repopulation zones” or incentives for infrastructure investments. (I could refer to this possible trend as “e-population.” But I’ve become sensitive to the overuse of the letter “e.”)

Still, I think I’d like my gig to have some, at least, verbal equivalents of rainbow lorikeets and blue-faced honey-eaters.

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