Snow Days and the Flow of Information

Mood music for this post: Snow Day by Trip Shakespeare

Friday was another snow day here in Wisconsin and I found it interesting to see how this piece of information wound its way through the various layers of the community. (For the uninitiated, a snow day is a weather-related closing of the local school system. They often involve heavy amounts of snowfall and a euphoric sense of good fortune on the part of students.)

The classic, pre-Internet, pre-mobile method of disseminating this information to the public usually started with the school superintendent contacting area TV and radio stations on the day of the closing. The media would then run regular updates on their morning programs which would, in turn, be viewed or heard by parents getting ready for work. The kids themselves were at the bottom of this vertical flow of information, either hearing it directly from their parents or through their parent’s media choices.

These days the school superintendent often contacts their IT director before the media because this person is hooked into a distributed network of communication technology that bypasses the traditional information hierarchy. They might set off a robocall that contacts families and employees and then post a message to social media sites with a much larger potential audience. Now kindergarteners following the district’s Twitter feed have the ability to hear about school closings at the same time as the local TV manager.

This flattening of the information hierarchy was made readily apparent to me after dinner on Thursday. My son was in the other room doing his homework when the robocall came in announcing the closing. My wife — hoping to withhold this information until he finished — didn’t say anything at first. However, within seconds he had already received a text from a buddy with the good news. A victory for the little guy and a tremendous example of the democratization of information.

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