Libya news hits home in an unexpected Minnesota community

Editor’s note: Former Glean writer Max Sparber is filling in for Brian Lambert for a few days.

As most of you have no doubt already heard, Tuesday saw violence in Benghazi. Outrage over an obscure U.S.-made anti-Muslim film ignited a horrific chain of events that led to the murder of Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

(Here is the AP story on the event, as republished by the Strib. This is obviously not a local story, although these sorts of stories generally have a local connection, which no doubt our press will uncover soon (the closest we have gotten so far: Keith Ellison decrying the violence).

But I wanted to take a moment to mention the event and also discuss how the online world has changed the idea of “local connections.”

Because there are Minnesotans who know one of the dead — many, in fact, although they may never have met him. Among the victims was diplomat Sean Smith, who was an active gamer in the Massive Multiplayer game EVE Online, where he was a legend. He went by the pseudonym Vile Rat, and his death has caused an outpouring of grief in that community.

How large is the user base for EVE? As of March, it was about 400,000, and has a robust Minnesota presence.

And this is how it is in this future of ours. Often enough, our friends are no longer based in physical proximity, but instead generated through common interests in an online world unbounded by physical space. Everything is local now, even tragedies that happen half a world away.

We’re at a strange time in history, with this great electronic collapse of borders co-existing with an equally great pull toward regionalism. We chat online with people in Africa while only eating food grown 100 miles from where we live, and we follow the news on Al-Jazeera while enjoying “Portlandia,” which revels in regionally specific social behavior. It’s a tough thing to maintain — if you want to drink locally grown milk, as an example, it’s getting harder.

Paul Levy of the Star Tribune writes that local dairy farms are closing at an alarming rate, as the cost of producing milk outpaces the profit made from it.

In the meanwhile, some of the better dining in the Twin Cities cannot easily be accessed by Twin Citians, because they are in the airport, as the PiPress’ Jess Fleming reports.

If you want to enjoy food at Minnesota’s Mimosa or Minnibar, you are probably going to have to have a ticket to leave Minnesota, or at least be returning from somewhere else.

The Glean

Of course, this isn’t really a new phenomenon. One of Minnesota’s greatest forms of entertainment — the Vikings — is mostly made up of non-Minnesotans who we imported, some of whom certainly do not enjoy the experience. Aaron Rupar of City Pages offers the example of Donovan McNabb, who had a short, undistinguished turn in local football, and didn’t really think the team was up to snuff. The story also points out that Brett Favre, who was sympathetic to McNabb’s experience, only came back to Minnesota because they parked a dump truck full of cash in front of his house. So it is with hometown teams and their players — some of them don’t really want to be in your hometown.

And who am I to talk? I’m writing this column in Omaha after a nine-month stint in Hollywood. And yet, thanks to the Internet, and thanks to social media, I feel like I have carried Minnesota with me, in my laptop and my iPhone, where it constantly updates me. I know of St. Paul friends who are renting condos and Minneapolis friends who are in marathons. I’m not sure I would have known about this sort of stuff a few years ago, when I was actually in Minnesota and actually was their neighbor, because I only pick up the phone every month or so.

Here we are, in this future of ours, when technology has collapsed the world into bits and bytes on a computer screen, and I feel like I can be anywhere in the world and still be a better neighbor than I have ever been. Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, but nowadays we can never leave. Did I stop being a Minnesotan because I left? No, I just turned into a Digital Minnesotan.

Well, I guess, me and a publication called The Minnesotan, which was published from October 1947 to May 1969, and has been digitized.  We’re all bits and bytes now.

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