Meadowlark Project gives glimpse of things to come

Imagine a world where a youthful, tech-savvy, monochromatic generation has taken technological advancements to the level where there is no need or desire to have to leave our homes, family members are micro-chipped in order to always keep track o...

Imagine a world where a youthful, tech-savvy, monochromatic generation has taken technological advancements to the level where there is no need or desire to have to leave our homes, family members are micro-chipped in order to always keep track of one another, children are cloned and laptop computers are universally issued to all so world-wide learning is possible right from our living rooms.

Picture the northern and southern halves of Carlton County split into two worlds - one shaped by its belief in putting its resources into connective technologies and the other embracing transportation infrastructure instead.....

And as far out as that might seem, it could be exactly where we're headed by the year 2050 - unless we start talking about it today. At least that's the premise of an innovative new visioning project aimed at initiating dialogue about the future of Minnesota and the rest of the northern Great Plains states.

The Meadowlark Project is concerned with assessing the vitality of the area's rural communities and brainstorming "action issues" to impact the shape of things to come.

As part of that project, 13 Cloquet-area residents gathered at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College last Wednesday night to take a soul-searching look at what our area might be like by the year 2050 - and discuss how we can begin shaping that future today.


The local session was facilitated by the Meadowlark Project's Jerry Nagel and was one of many planned regionally throughout the current and upcoming years.

Nagel explained at the onset of the two-hour workshop that throughout the history of rural development, the same set of issues tends to reemerge, including such challenges as the out-migration of youth, poverty, racism and environmental regulation.

"Our aim is to start looking at these issues differently," said Nagel.

To that end, Nagel said the Meadowlark Laboratory, the brainchild of a non-for-profit research group in Fargo, assembled a 25-member "laboratory team" of various ages and races that began working together a year ago last July. Their charge was to develop a set of possible scenarios in story form depicting how various forces might shape the future.

Participants at last Wednesday's session worked in small groups to listen to and discuss the resulting four dialogues, dealing with subjects such as technology, cyber terrorism, global warming, the potential impacts of widespread ethanol production, and the significance of dramatic land and population shifts.

"Stories give meaning to what we learn," said Nagel, "and stories stick with us. When we talk about the future, we begin to live it."

The attendees came from a wide range of backgrounds, including business, education, the Fond du Lac Reservation, social services and private citizens. As they rotated among various small groups, participants discussed the future scenarios, shared personal reflections on what direction they feel our area is moving and offered suggestions of ways to impact positive and negative outcomes.

One of the scenarios that sparked the greatest feedback was titled "A Tech-No-Color World," in which the wonders of technology largely overtake the human and social aspects of life and populations become fragmented because of their conflicting values.


The local group discussion that ensued centered around the dangers of allowing such a scenario to reach fruition.

Comments from group members included:

"We have to focus on separating convenience from dependence [where computers are concerned]."

"Who is moderating the use of computers in our homes? Otherwise, they can easily become disabling."

"I have a concern for the future development of our youth if we go completely to computer-based learning."

"We're liable to forget about what really matters."

"Too much time is spent addressing the physical aspects of our community and not enough on what's going on inside us. We need to show our young people they're valued, not just build facilities."

The workshop, supported locally by the Blandin Foundation, the Northland Foundation, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College and the Pine Journal, came to its conclusion with no real answers - but a with a wide range of rhetorical questions for participants to take with them - hopefully to initiate further community dialogue and start shaping tomorrow's world today.


For more information on the Meadowlark Project, or to access the four sample scenarios that can be used to spearhead group discussion, log on to: .

Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: .

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