Social media networks & expats: Staying a part of our communities

Expats must leave their familiar communities every time they move. Social media networks help us to remain an active, on-going part of those communities through daily and seemingly mundane interactions. It's time to acknowledge that.

Will you or will you not delete your Facebook account?

That was the debate a few weeks ago on Facebook. Much of the discussion centered around privacy concerns and the (serious) ethics of how a private company motivated by getting 'clicks' could sway the electoral processes of one of the world's biggest democracies.

For me, though, there's another, more personal issue that I keep coming back to:
How do I keep continuing my contact with people and to communities that are important to my sense of who I am, but all of whom/which are physically far away?
Many of my FB 'friends' are people who I like, with whom I perhaps went to school or did some activity, whose news/thoughts/what they are reading I'm happy to learn about, and with whom I'd most likely lose contact if the FB link were to be severed.

Sharing of a physical space

If this were in person, rather than virtual, what kind of contact would I have with these acquaintances? Probably the occasional 'catching up' at the office water cooler, or passing by on campus, or the once-a-week rehearsals—in other words, being in the same place at the same time on a regular basis.

I feel that we don't give much attention to the importance of sharing a physical space in establishing relationships: to be present, to be in the same 'room' over a period of time. That's what builds familiarity, a sense of comradeship, and even trust.

For me, Facebook successfully provides that shared space.

Just by reading other people's posts (doesn't even have to be personal posts), hitting 'like', leaving a little comment and getting little replies...those little acts make me feel like we are interacting regularly, casually, the same as saying 'hi' while passing by in the corridor at work every day.

Staying a part of our communities, even if we move

Perhaps some would criticize such 'shallow' relationships. But I think critics miss the point. It's not that I expect these Facebook 'friendships' will be deep and meaningful, but it keeps me connected to communities that I otherwise would be cut off from.

Our communities aren't only those to which we have deep and meaningful connections; we also exist within broader, casual communities that perhaps don't represent the core of our beings, but still mean something to us and give us some sense of belonging.

Moving around as expats usually means that we're torn out of those larger communities; we are, to put it bluntly, expelled from them. We could perhaps visit on our annual trips back 'home', but it's a one-time remembrance perhaps, nothing like the regular, little contact instances that keep us a real-time part of that community.

Reading my college class notes once a quarter doesn't make me feel connected to the group of alums, but daily seeing individual updates on FB and having little interactions with fellow alumna does.

So I'm afraid I'm stuck on Facebook for the time being.


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