Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Family's Facebook journey.

When I talk to my colleagues at Duke about my intrigue with social media networks, I get two responses: 1) Vague interest: You'll have to sit down with me sometime and show me your Twitter account. 2) Disparaging disbelief: It would be interesting to track the number hours you spend on Facebook.

Well... yes, it's true I should do both: Show you my twitter account and track the hours I spend on Facebook, but probably not for the kinds of reasons that generate the comments I've been getting-- comments that don't really acknowledge the implications that social media networks have for a lives lived in exile.

My mom who is in her sixties and lives in Norway was the first to friend me on Facebook two years ago and since then my entire extended family from South Africa to China, from Oslo to Alicante has connected, and frankly in no insignificant ways. I Facebook message my cousin in Essen, Germany from Durham, North Carolina or New York City, USA and even if she is not in Essen and is working instead in Johannesburg, South Africa there is no question in either of our minds that she'll get back to me immediately for whatever it is I need: a tet a tet , a quote, a piece of information, encouragement, a chat, really whatever, and vice versa. Our family shares photos and updates. We keep up with eachother's lives and get to know eachother's friends at a distance. We plan trips together and include those who couldn't make it in on the fun online.

In the last year alone, I have been to Spain, to Turkey, to Chile, to Kenya, and to Norway. The connections I had or made in each place created spin offs: the stories that were generated from my impression of the food, the colors, the events, the art, the music continue virtually on Facebook.

Let me give you an example:

On my last Thursday in Santiago, I discovered a whole branch of my family in Chile at a party I happened to go to with my Norwegian/ British Facebook friends. My Facebook friends had just moved to Santiago from Peru. At the party we discovered that we were all on Facebook. We friended eachother and posted our first collective picture the next day. My mom posted a comment about the photo that encouraged me track the family connection further. My brother commented too and reminded me that he had run into "my Chilean" second cousin in a bus terminal in the Middle East not long ago. My father, now in his seventies in Spain, had a chance to see photos of his relatives who he had last met some fifteen years ago in Santiago. I now follow my two Norwegian/British Facebook friends and my whole Chilean family as they get together at parties, community events, and as they celebrate business successes. I share in their enjoyment of eachother, the food and the music, and the culture they live and breathe. I "go on trips" with them and "watch them" dress up for special events and "see" them pose for photos along the way. These daily feeds continue to inspire me from a distance and affect my quotidian life.

That's just one example; one story from a Thursday of my life. There are at least ten others I could share from the last month alone. I cannot imagine a more vibrant life at the moment without social media networks. And the hours I do spend on them (which frankly aren't that many) are more than worth the years of separation and distance that has been my family's story for over thirty years.