Sent to Iceland: The idea of rural in contemporary society

Apologies to readers for the 2-week hiatus – I have been mid-adventure and things have been too hectic to write. This piece and the next few will follow up on this. Posts will be back to regularity from this week.

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the protagonist Bernard Marx finds himself on a holiday visiting a rural reservation. The visit is an insightful event showing a strange community that live outside of the “social norm” of this urban-centred world. This journey marks a decisive moment in the novel, where Bernard’s story is turned on its head by the people that he encounters and the adventure that he has with the “savages” in the wilderness.

This separation of urban and rural in Brave New World was part of Huxley’s tongue-in-cheek mockery of the society that he believed he was watching develop. The greatest  threat brandished to citizens in Huxley’s dystopia is being forced to move to Iceland – a desolate and unpopulated island. This relocation was the deepest fear for Bernard, who was pleasantly settled in the urban landscape of central London.

A dichotomy between urban and rural environments can always have been said to exist, with the bohemian bourgeoisie living surrounded by the infrastructure and metropolitan grandeur of cities and large towns, while smaller villages and country houses have a more sombre, classical cliche attached.

Certainly, like any stereotype, there is some level on which these assessments are true. Highly developed urban areas are centres of development and technological advancement. Due to the centralisation of funding and higher populations, urban areas are privy to more contemporary art, performances, innovation and ideas. The result is that in an urban environment there is often more susceptibility to change, whereas in rural environments this is not an issue that is so often dealt with.

The urban/rural divide in thinking can be seen in its influence on political decisions in the US. In a piece by Bill Bishop on statesman.com, the writer quotes statistics stating that “By 2000, however, the average Democratic county had three times as many voters as the average Republican county”. This showed that heavily populated urban areas had a higher Democratic vote, showing a leaning towards more left-wing policies in these areas. With the Republican party representing a more conservative wing of the two-tier system, the statistics point to the stereotype of conservative attitudes in rural areas, at least in the US.

The English Independent posted an online article in 2007 documenting a rise in poverty and racist attacks in rural areas in Britain. The economic wealth in rural areas has begun to decline from a traditional abundance due to the vast increase in population in urban areas. In 2008 the UN published a report stating that cities hosted over 50% of the world’s population for the first time in global history. The increase in population has positively affected the economics of urban life, in turn having a detrimental effect on rural areas. However, the mental health of rural dwellers shows lower levels of social stress than those in urban areas, as shown in a 2010 study by Dutch researchers.

The above theories may show signs that the rural/urban divide is broadening, but with the relentless development of internet technologies rural people may be becoming more centralised than in the past without ever entering into the urban sprawl. The availability of social networking, mobile telephone coverage and other information through advanced communication techniques has increased accessibility and created new opportunities for rural people. An indepth study on the effects of the internet on rural communities was conducted by Namsu Park in a dissertation available from University of Texas online (click here) and included studies that showed the positive effects of internet media on rural dwellers.

Through the internet the field of work has also broadened for rural people. As a graphic designer much of my work is contracted in urban areas but conducted from my own rural home. The instantanaeity of the internet allows for better communication with clients, eliminating the necessity for face-to-face meetings.

This blog and others like it are an opportunity for the sharing of information from any area with little influence from whether the writing was made in an urban or rural context. The internet is making the world smaller, but the rural/urban divide seems to still have weight in certain areas.

Having lived in a small town in a sparse region of Iceland I have to admit that Aldous Huxley’s model of rural seclusion in the north Atlantic island is not necessarily a torturous thing. Although the isolation of living in a rural environment can seem to stifle creativity at times, there are certainly advantages to the separation and freedoms that are offered in non-urban settings, including the aforementioned loss of social pressure.

Where the border exists between urban and rural when the internet is involved is still being determined.

All photography is my own and subject to copyright unless stated. I don’t mind reproductions, but please credit them to this blog or contact (contactmoonunderwater@gmail.com) for more information.

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