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...