Hacking Small Town America: The Unexploited Market of Tyler, Texas

By Christopher Groskopf

Tyler has information that could be freed. Tyler has government that could be opened. And now, for the first time, Tyler has a hacker.

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To Find Myself In The Other Place

Somewhere along the way some important things got right and truly fucked up. My wife and I are getting divorced. At the end of June she and my son will move from Chicago to Tyler, Texas.

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I've contemplated a lot of reactions to this change and I've decided, with their support, that I will:

  1. Let her go.
  2. Follow him.

If the personal and moral intuitions aren't obvious to you, I don't think I can explain them.

I've become much more comfortable in Chicago than anywhere else I've ever lived. It is as close to a "home" as I've had in my adult life. By all accounts, Tyler will be different in nearly every way -- small, provincial, culturally isolated -- not unlike my hometown in Nebraska. I expect to spend a great deal of time actively disagreeing with people.

So far, I've spent probably 80% of 2011 being depressed about either the divorce or the move, but lately I've come into a new frame of mind. I wouldn't call it a reconciliation, but basically I've decided:

I'm going to make this good.

You might call it a trite coming-to-terms, but I've decided to make this change positive using whatever means are available to me. It helps that my awesome job has provisionally agreed to allow me to telecommute (more on this later). Some other things are easy too:

  • No more wasting 20 hours a week commuting.
  • Cost of living ~30% cheaper than Chicago.
  • Excellent schools (...), low crime, yada, yada.
  • Quiet.

However, what I'm most interested in focusing on is how I can improve the things I don't like, either through application of will or technology or both:

  • Tyler has a reasonably extensive bus system, but its online schedule is only available as a PDF. (You can probably already see where this is going, right?)
  • The local newspaper, The Tyler Morning Telegraph circulates to nearly a third of the city's population according to the Access Bureau of Circulations, but I could find virtually no information about the politics of local government online.
  • Smith County's only method of finding a polling place online is with a clumsy map viewing application.
  • The city and county both make significant amounts of data available online (surprising given their small size), but no one seems to have done any analysis of it (disappointing since the town has four colleges).

The list goes on. Tyler has information that could be freed. Tyler has government that could be opened. Tyler has news that could be hacked. Moreover, Tyler has an almost completely unexploited market. There are no hackers there. The small number of high-tech businesses that exist in the region are either web development shops serving local businesses or robotics companies.

I've come to realize that although this move is not something I want to do, it doesn't need to be the low point of my life. How can I cope? I can take my ethic with me. I can use the skills I've developed in Chicago to make another place better. And I can use my time and freedom to improve myself. Plans for Tyler and for myself:

  • Apps for Tyler: a one-man, off-cycle project to bring my new hometown into modernity.
  • Learn about the place: analysis and presentation of any interesting information I can dig up about the place. Who knows, maybe I'll find a lede or two?
  • Travel: I'm going to use my new freedom to get out of Dodge as frequently as possible. I hear Austin is nice.
  • Public transportation. I'll have access to a car, but I'm going to do my best to live without being a consumer of gasoline, just as I did in Chicago.
  • A better life: applying my extra time to improving my health, fitness, and living a more balanced life.

Is this all going to go off without a hitch? Not a chance. I expect to spend many nights being painfully underwhelmed with the place and with myself, but this is the best way I know how to deal with it. This new blog will serve as documentation of my progress on all fronts.

I don't know exactly when I will be moving -- it will likely be sometime in July or August -- but I've already set myself on this new path. I'm not going to waste time wishing things weren't about to change. Instead I'm going to hack Tyler to be what I need it to be.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/05/hacking-small-town-america-the-unexploited-market-of-tyler-texas/238584/