Sometimes I think about what it must have been like for people only a few short decades ago who chose to live abroad. Keeping in touch with friends and family, knowing what’s going on at home and being able to keep up on the political and cultural comings and goings of the culture you grew up in. There’s plenty you can get from newspapers and TV and letters from home, but the immediacy of it all is lost. Home is truly very far away under those circumstances.
Now, of course, home is right on my desktop. I can talk to friends and family, share evens in real time and know what they know. Even though I do appreciate the distance at times, the fact is that the internet keeps me close to the place I grew up in. I can buy my comics through iTunes, follow the news on countless websites, keep up with the most up to the minute internet culture on Reddit, and watch the hottest television shows through means that are ENTIRELY LEGAL AND ETHICAL OF COURSE.
I can use Skype to talk to my family for nearly nothing. I can take a photo and share it with everyone I know on Facebook in mere moments. Any random thought, I can Tweet out and get a response to. I can do my podcast and reach the ears of tens, nay DOZENS of listeners. In short, though my physical body may be thousands of miles from where it was, my internet presence is far vaster. I literally cannot imagine what it would be like to live here without it.
But then again…
Perhaps the people who lived abroad in the days before the internet was so ubiquitous had benefits that I’m denying myself. Without a convenient link to their home culture, they would have had to immerse themselves in the new one. Without all those people at home to talk to, they would have to talk to people nearby. Without having their old friends available at a moment’s notice, they would have had to go out and make new ones. It is entire possible – hell, almost certain – that having the internet as my lifeline to the U.S. has kept me from truly immersing myself in Japan, no matter how many years I’ve lived here. Maybe if I somehow cut ties completely, I would gain the benefits of having to commit to the place in which I live. There certainly are benefits that would come with that…But still…
I suppose there is a certain sentimentalism in my heart, though. I have lots of things that I can’t bear to part with, even if I really should. I have a couple of boxes in a closet that I haven’t opened since the day I moved in – by all rights, I should be able to just tape them up and throw them away. But I can’t. Knowing that they’re there is pleasing to me. It’s a good feeling knowing that while I may not need them right at this moment, they’ll be there if I ever do. And I suppose it’s that sentimental desire to hold on to things that the internet enables in me.
I don’t want to let go of the people I left back in the States. I don’t want to let go of our music and culture, our news and stories and lives. I don’t want to let go of the people I love, because they are so much more important to me than things in a box. They are part of who I am, and at this place and this time I like who I am. I see no need to radically change who I am just to conform to where I am.
Without the internet, I would be a very different person. Maybe better, maybe worse, I don’t know. But that person isn’t someone I care to meet at this point in my life. Not when there’s so much out there for me to see.