Incommunicado Impossible...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Incommunicado Impossible...

Remember these?

The amazing thing about living abroad in 2012 is that I know everything that’s going on back at home in real time.  The worst part about living abroad in 2012 is that I know everything that’s going on back at home in real time.

While Skype, iPhones, and international calling plans are becoming less of a luxury and more of the norm in Paris (there’s free Wi-Fi everywhere!), it’s impossible not to be connected.  So as Sandy was bearing down on the East Coast back at home, I couldn't help but read Tweets, Facebook updates, and news headlines about the imminent disaster that all of my friends and family back at home were facing.  Text messages pop up from friends: “It’s so windy!” “Hunkering down for the hurricane,” and “These NYC pussies, it’ll just be some wind and rain.” 

Whether or not it was a disaster is another story, one I won't even attempt to address, but as an expat it’s sometimes frustrating to have to live these events in real time with everyone else.  While it's seemingly a technological advancement to have all of these resources, there are some downsides to being constantly connected at a time like this. 

First off, I stress.  If I don’t get a text from my friend, did a tree fall through her house and kill her?  If my mom doesn't respond to my email immediately as the flood waters rise, should we have sprung for swimming lessons last year for Christmas?  If there is no Tweeting from a friend who should have landed already, did they get sucked up in a tornado Wizard-of-Oz-style?  Sometimes not knowing is better than being constantly informed.  Gone are the days when our patience wouldn't be frayed after five minutes of non-communication.

Secondly, knowing everything makes dinner conversation a bit blander.  When I first studied abroad, without any internet in my apartment, I’d sit in a phone booth at midnight touching base with friends and family and we’d have things to talk about.  “Oh her dog had puppies?  No I didn’t see the photos on Instagram!  You travelled where last week?  I didn’t read your blog update, tell me about it!  She broke up with him already?  When was the status update on Facebook?  I didn’t see!” 

There was something whimsical about news being news again.  Now when friends tell me things, rarely does it interest me because I probably already found out while stalking them online.  For instance, my mom told me about our childhood basketball net's demise hours after I saw my sister post a photo on Facebook.  Furthermore, it’s tough to find new things to talk about when I’m home at Christmas time when I was never behind in the gossip to begin with…

Thirdly. I start to care less.  Once you know everything and have all of the news at your disposition 24/7, it starts to become boring.  Facebook and blogs, originally useful as a way to keep in touch with those I left behind, are now time vacuums where I waste hours looking at tweets about what people ate and how the weather is crappy in some part of the world.  It all becomes less exotic and the need to communication less valuable.  Saturation point reached.  I go to no great lengths to call people whom, 6 years ago without an internet connection, were at the top of my to-call list.  It’s all become too easy and consequently, less interesting.

So when my mom texted me about my lack of concern over the post-hurricane, I texted back telling her that Facebook told me it was all OK.  I even knew that the dogs were fine, if not a bit windblown.  Something that years ago would have been a major conversation piece was whittled down to just another happening in our daily lives.  I guess I should say thanks to technology, but I'm not yet sure...


  1. Bryan, while you are definitely right about the excess of FB and social media in general/about most things in this post, its a whole other ball park with this hurricane. For most people, this has been the most devastating thing they've seen hit that close to home/in front of their eyes. Here, NYC is essentially shut down and the damage is unfathomable. So I don't blame your Maman texting you about your lack of concern! I found people who I havent spoke to in years reaching out, and then heard nothing from people who are close to me. Even if most people are physically ok, lives were lost and property was damaged. Buildings and hospitals were evacuated, as were entire blocks/neighborhoods. A crazy amount of people don't have heat, water, electricity. Its just moments like these where text messages/emails to your loved ones would be nice and appreciated, even if you know things are ok, because it's the fact that you are thinking of them that counts. It's quite a bit more than just 'another happening in our daily lives' out here.

    Anyway, that's just my two cents :)
    Take care!

    1. Coucou you. I'm not diminishing the storm's effects at all, of course, and correction to my post: I texted my mom first about a non-Sandy related issue, so we were already in contact :). But the saturation of communication makes it both frustrating being abroad because we (expats) have to live it in real time as well (a first world problem, I admit). But seeing it on Facebook and Twitter while not being there definitely skews my perception of the event that, years ago, I would have read about anxiously in the newspaper or called family to get the first hand account.

      Facebook is a platform that I (maybe all too personally) associate with posting photos of parties and vacations, inviting people to events, and playing Farmville, so the smack of disaster is unfairly watered down when I see people posting about Sandy on their accounts. If you can post on Facebook or Twitter as a disaster is striking, I'm dubious about the threat to said person.

      All of this news is now one step removed with social media, and there's a gap between all of the communication that is possible and all of the communication that's actually happening. Everything is out there with a few clicks and we're getting lazy so that a quick glance at my newsfeed is enough to calm me and I don't feel the urgency to check in on everyone I know. Maybe that's a blessing, maybe it's a curse, maybe it's just me, but it's a weird state of flux that we're in as the world is adapting to all of this...

  2. As a US expat living in London for the past few years, I completely agree with this post. It's very different now from a decade ago, and I was running into this conversation problem during the holidays. I'm working towards weening off of social media as much as possible, but it's a tricky maneuver.

    1. I hope you found SOMETHING to talk about during the holidays :)