I emigrated to London in 2005. Irish people don’t say that about London anymore. You emigrate to the US or Canada or Australia but you move to London. Moving implies fluidity as if you are really in both places, here and there. But that is not the case.
When you arrive in a new city in your 40’s people meeting you for the first time make assumptions. That you have lived there for ages, that you have a family, that you have old friends and long-standing connections. Only one of those was true in 2005. I had a family.
So you build slowly. Firstly colleagues, who later become friends and gradually you become the person everyone assumed you were. Connections with home become tight. Less with friends and even less with extended family. Then finally, they reduce to parents and siblings.
Neither my sister nor my mother use social media so my contact with them is almost exclusively by phone. Phone conversations are not the place that you update those you love in 140 characters or where you share a hyperlink. So the things that I share on Twitter I do not necessarily share when I phone home. They can be trivial things or personal things that seem important in a fleeting moment (like buying an orchid, or baking banana bread) but not so much as to take up valuable talk time.
Except the machine that is merging all my data across my social media platforms is serving up those Tweets on LinkedIn and a relative in my extended family sees them. This seems odd to my mother who can’t understand how this relative knows things about me. How does she know that we went out for dinner the night before my son left for university or that I tried (and failed) to give up smoking?
We are what we share but does the medium we use shape the nature of our relationships?
My mother sees an intimacy in those 140 character snippets of information. Because she cannot see them it’s as if I am choosing to share with others but not with her. Does knowing something small about me mean others know me better than she does?
Of course not. I could talk about banana bread and my restaurant habits when I visit Ireland, but I’d rather spend the time listening to my mother and my sister, catching up on what matters to them and just being home.
I cannot begin to describe how invaluable my social networks are to me not least because when you are starting from scratch it’s a joy to so easily find other like-minded people. In a new country you can feel unsure and alone and being part of a community, even a virtual one, makes you feel less of an outsider.
Through my use of social media channels others know me differently than my family but I’ll never share a picture of me in my mothers dressing gown on Twitter. (In case you are curious it’s a rather vivid shade of pink, rather like the orchid). That’s a privilege I share only with my mother because she gets to see what others don’t. Because in the end what we choose to share, and with whom, is defined by the nature of the relationship.
Orchids may indeed be beautiful but home – well home is home.