100 Million People You Don’t Know, But Should – SXSW17 liveblog

David Measer, advertising, and Lisa Pecot-Hebert, USC journalism. Here we go:

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Len Edgerly March 14, 201710:47 am

David: half of population lives in 146 of more than 3,000 counties. Half of population lives in 9 states. When you roll up population in terms of diversity, a lot of the country is left out. The diversity narrative is true in the big cities. We might be losing touch.

We lopped off the biggest cities–New York, LA, Chicago, the top 21 biggest cities. All have population around 1 million people. U.S. over-18 population total: 240 million people. The big cities account for 42 percent of that, just over 100 million.
We then looked at cities with populations between 40,000 and 1 million. Grand Rapids, Omaha. They account for 44 percent of US, just over 100 million people.
So this is not about the top 21 or rural areas. B and C counties are what’s left.
altmiddle is the hashtag they came up with.
Lisa: ALTMIDDLE, middle part of America is where the election changed things. We ignore the middle. We don’t think about it. There has to be middle ground between altright and altleft.
Len Edgerly March 14, 201710:53 am

Demographics of ALTMIDDLE are more homoginized. Top 21 cities have more white collar jobs. ALTMIDDLE cities have more blue collar, farming jobs.

In television, top shows for Top 21 are more urban inspired. (ALTMIDDLE shows I’ve never heard of.)
Top 21 want to learn about foreign cultures, interested in fine arts, celebrities that reflect how we look, strive to achieve high social status.
ALTMIDDLE – I’d rather travel in US than abroad, religion should be pillar of society, buying American products is important to me.

David: this comes from quantitative databases. When you look at the values, Top 21 cares about status. ALTMIDDLE care about faith, tradition.

But we can’t understand people by polls. They reinforce stereotypes. When you live in a bubble you can make assumptions about people in other bubble that are wrong. You need to have conversations.

Len Edgerly March 14, 201711:02 am

David: We wanted to get to know ALTMIDDLE. We traveled in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri. Focused on Omaha, Fargo Sioux Falls. Wanted to meet some of our 100 million people,


First video of people they talked to: like a comfortable afghan your grandmother made for you. You can wrap yourself up in it and feel cozy. If you get a flat the first car that stops by will help. It’s a family. A stranger is a friend you haven’t met. Very moving.

They’re really nice! A theme. Everyone was welcoming, Lisa says. Different than we anticipated. We learned four interesting things on our trip. We went in January.

First video: This is how you do it in South Dakota. People are not anonymous. Social media breaks up communication. You care about your neighbor. If we can’t listen to each other… You should know: they thrive on human connection.

Lisa: we se tup a few interviews from L.A. by email. Once we started interviewing everyone was happy, like a snowball, you should talk to Mary down the street. We went in people’s homes. You should talk to this person. Face to face conversation helped our research.

Social media doesn’t replace real connection. Have to evaluate tech what it takes away. Sense of community has been breached.

David: They are on FB, using internet but they are evaluating it. It’s a conversation that’s happening.


Len Edgerly March 14, 201711:06 am

video 2 – My version of the American Dream is to be able to be happy with your life, whatever it is. I want my grandchildren to be comfortable within themselves, successful. Here materialism not so much. We want people to be successful and happy, might not mean a lot of money.

David: everything outside of work wants to add up to that number. Their ambition is more about personal fulfillment. Ambition is more grounded, more personal, more humble about it. What you should know: They’re ambitious – by their definition.
Bartender happy to be bartender, has college degree. If you are happy, that’s what matters. Happiness always came back to family.
Lisa: midwest work ethic. We do have this work ethic they said. It came across many times.
Len Edgerly March 14, 201711:14 am

Video 3: We’re proud of where we come from. Hard work. My grandparents came here fleeing religious persecution. You honor your past be being the best person you can be now. Fargo is religious.

What you should know: Rootedness matters.
Lutefisk. A Norwegian heritage food they hate but revere. Church is part of cultural rootedness.
Lisa: We went to a church service. Not sure what kind of church it was. Jewish guy and Catholic girl. It was called Ransom Church. It was amazing. So many people talked with us.
David: It was the day of Trump’s executive order on immigrants. Lutheran Family Services is large in this population. There are lots of refugee centers. Sudanese, Afghans, Somalia, Burma were in the majority of the cities we went to. They said they were open to it because their parents were immigrants from Norway, and Native Americans. Through the church and rootedness there are lots of organizations bringing diversity into the community.
On our last night in Omaha, an Afghan refugee whose job was to give intel to American soldiers. Put family at great risk. How was it. He said it’s amazing to wake up and not feel my life is going to be threatened, as it was in Afghanistan.
Their rootedness was linked to their openness to refugees.
David: their church was a key.
Len Edgerly March 14, 201711:19 am

Video 4: Omaha has one of lowest unemployment rates in country. I would have thought nothing was here based on my experience on East Coast. Now we have diverse restaurants from all over. Huge in business opportunities. You should know: flyover versus epicenter.

David: Admit it, you have considered them as flyover cities. They consider themselves as epicenters. I thought they were 10 years behind the culture. Not like that. They feel they are thriving and leading the way themselves. Every place it was on point with shopping, restaurants, food. It wasn’t a big lag. They feel they are in a moment and can lead the way culturally, putting their own spin on it. They are making a mark. “We don’t coast.” We don’t need to draft off the Coasts to forge our own identity.
Say no to FOMO. They feel in middle of Fargo in the middle of winter they are in the center of cool. They are not trying to get out.
Four things they learned about ALTMIDDLE cities:
1. Face to face connections
2. rootedness
3. flyover v. epicenter
4. ambition redefined
Len Edgerly March 14, 201711:25 am

Lisa: we came back to L.A. and saw how ALTMIDDLE culture is hip – Mason jars, Pinterest, denim. We’re taking a lot of trends that are just things happening in these smaller cities. It’s us taking from them, not the reverse.


David: did one more data run. Some of the key values of Millenials in Top 21 cities are authenticity, optimism, community, discovery, honesty. They are being more influenced by the inside. Downtown revitalizations are a sign of people craving more face to face contact? Aren’t famers markets, which we think are an urban invention, a desire for rootedness, community?

Farm to table restaurant in San Fran and spend $200 more for heartland realness. Destination wedding in a barn. Community gardens.

Those of us in top 21 are searching for things the ALTMIDDLE already has. We are now looking at them as trend setters, leading some of most important cultural trends

Allowed us to see similarities and to have feeling we can find a way to get through crazy divide and continue conversation to realize there are a lot of core things that we share.

Len Edgerly March 14, 201711:27 am

Lisa: Read Across the Aisle app helps you diversify your bubble. The Guardian has one called Burst Your Bubble. WSJ has red feed blue feed. Indivisible, We are here to help burst your bubble, to learn more about people you don’t cross paths with.

We are all trendsetters in different ways at different times. Taking time to converse with one another might be a good first step.
Len Edgerly March 17, 201710:26 am

David: half of population lives in 146 of 3,141 counties. Half of population lives in 9 states. When you roll up population in terms of diversity, a lot of the country is left out. The diversity narrative is true in the big cities. We might be losing touch.

We lopped off the biggest cities–New York, LA, Chicago, the top 21 biggest cities. All have population around 1 million people. U.S. over-18 population total: 240 million people. The big cities account for 42 percent of that, just over 100 million.
We then looked at cities with populations between 40,000 and 1 million. Grand Rapids, Omaha. They account for 44 percent of US, just over 100 million people.
So this is not about the top 21 or rural areas. B and C counties are what’s left.
altmiddle is the hashtag they came up with.
Lisa: ALTMIDDLE, middle part of America is where the election changed things. We ignore the middle. We don’t think about it. There has to be middle ground between altright and altleft.

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    […] Hundred Million People You Don’t Know But Should” – event description at SXSW. Click here for my liveblog of the session. You will need to click again on the post headline to see the […]