What everyone 'knows' of Wyoming

Aug 21, 2013 By Chris Peck

Not very much, judging by an online search.

Many Americans couldn't find Wyoming on a map.

Most likely, few of our fellow citizens around the country could name Cheyenne as the capital, much less identify the six states that share a border with Wyoming.

These are just the sad facts of our geographic ignorance as a nation these days.

And don't even think of asking the Average American to find Afghanistan on a globe -- despite the fact that we're spending $91 billion of our tax dollars this year fighting a war there.

But here's the thing.

Even though most in the USA have never visited either Afghanistan or Wyoming, most every American has heard of both.

They have a fuzzy picture of the Cowboy State. And the Taliban.

And that raises an interesting question.

How do people get an image of a place, a picture of its people, when personal experience or informed judgment don't come into play?

We know the answer -- and it isn't that the everyone is beating a path to the library to search the Encyclopedia Britannica.

No, these days people learn about the world through the media. The media include everything from The Ranger, to Fox News, to a Facebook post.

The flow of information about Wyoming,or Afghanistan, or much of anything else is now a tidal wave of bits and pieces that gather force from a thousand flowing streams of data, facts, myths and outright misinformation.

Wyoming? Well, Mathew Shepard proved that the state is a bastion of anti-gay hatred, didn't he?

The politics of the state? Wasn't Dick Cheney from out there?

And forget the fact most of Wyoming is high, dry plains. In America's mind, it's all Yellowstone Park and the Tetons.

You're getting the picture.

These days the very image of a place, or a state, or a city is made up bits and bytes of information from all kinds of places.

Where once a person might have gone to the dictionary or the encyclopedia for details about Wyoming, now the state's very history and storyline are boiled down to one line: just Google it..

So I did.

Googled Wyoming.

Here were the top three mentions on the day I looked:

1. Cheapflights! You can get a ticket today for only $955 to fly from DC to Jackson Hole.

Maybe that's for Liz Cheney's Senate campaign organizing committee.Better get the suits from DC out here quickly to jump-start her effort.

2. Next up, Wyoming attractions!

I clicked on the first item.

"The Price is Right" live show is coming to Casper! Who knew?

3. Third up on my Google search: Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that put the Encyclopedia Britannica out of business.

That ink-on-paper Britannica probably would have had a few pages about Wyoming, its history as a frontier state, its early politics, climate and typography.

Wikipedia led with this: Wyoming is a state that has only two escalators!

All of this suggests that media literacy, meaning the ability to know how to sort through mountains of disparate facts, figures and fluff, is becoming a civic necessity.

To really know a place requires more than going to Google.

Otherwise, you will get a rather skewed picture of Wyoming -- which, with just a few clicks of a mouse, comes across as a really expensive place to visit where you shouldn't plan to take the escalator up to see The Price is Right Live in Casper.

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