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County Hall Corner – Facing the Future

Yes, it is a new year, and we are all thinking about the future, but for the moment, take a trip back in time with me. Imagine that I am meeting myself twenty years ago. 20th Century Larry (20C Larry) meets me (21C Larry), and we start talking about communications.

“Oh, look at this,” 20C Larry says as he shows me his pocket pager. “I can get a message now no matter where I am in the city. If someone wants to reach me, they call a number to a service and leave me a message and then the server sends it to me and my little device beeps, and I read it. Pretty amazing isn’t it? Do you still have these in 2018?”

“Ah,” 21C Larry responds slowly, “you might want to sit down when I show you what we have in 2018.” I pull out my cell phone. “From this, I can get messages just like you described, but I can also get the calls themselves, from anywhere in the world, in fact. And this little thing also takes photos or movies with sound. I can even watch Hollywood movies from it, listen to music, get directions, play games, use the internet.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” 20C Larry interrupts, “you’re kidding me, right? That little thing fits into your pocket. It could not possibly do all things. And if it did, it must cost a million dollars.”

I try to break this to my younger self gently, “No, actually, it does a lot, lot more than I just described, and yet these are so affordable, almost everyone in 2018 has one. And they are so simple to use; even grade school kids have them.”

I have used this little make-believe dialogue in leadership seminars to illustrate how difficult strategy and planning really is because the future almost always surprises us.

This struggle came into play at a recent County Commissioner’s Meeting as Karl Demi, the Information Services Director was explaining VoIP (Voice over Internet Providers) vs. regular phone lines. The county has been making this conversion over the past year, beginning with the Court House and the Executive Plaza offices, and this year intends to extend it to the Prison and the Lysock View facility. Commissioner Rick Mirabito, ever the fiscal steward, asked Mr. Demi if just because the technology was available, was it necessary? He saw the practicality for large facilities such as the buildings already completed, but could the outlying ones just get by with what they had?

Mr. Demi speaks slowly and softly, but he packs a lot of logic and power in his words. As delicately as he could, Mr. Demi explained to the commissioners that VoIP was not the future, but the present and the land lines were the past.

And yet, as technology advances, it does not dictate. Take the case of libraries, for example. For years now, there has been talk that with digital books becoming more and more popular, libraries were becoming obsolete.

However, a recent survey at the James V. Brown Library revealed the opposite response. Shirley, age 65, liked the fact that the librarians helped her pick out books that her grandchildren would like to read. Eunsong, age 40, brings her children to the library because the programs are so interesting to them. Dante, age 10, felt that the library helped him learn better. Dashirah, age 17, liked the library because it gave her a place where she could think by myself. But it is not just for kids. Josh, age 26, noted that the accessible technology in the library gave him access to job opportunities. Andrea, age 34, commented that the library is to her a “peaceful respite and source of new beginnings.”

So, yes, the future is coming, and like the libraries in Lycoming County, they are learning to reinvent themselves to meet the needs of a changing world. As we become more aware and prepare, we should not in the process miss the blessings of the now. As the saying goes, “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”

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