Every time I open my Facebook account, all sorts of information (or mis-information) bombards me in my newsfeed. It’s not fun scrolling down and deciding which ones will I read. Many of these are articles that are satirical in nature, conspiracy theories or downright fake news. The boom of Facebook was a blessing and a curse to the immigrant communities. With 2.23 billion users, Facebook has become the number one social media site in the world. It was a blessing because through it, separated migrant families are able to connect in real time. However, it is also a curse because it has become a venue for the proliferation of misinformation.Every time I open my Facebook account, all sorts of information (or mis-information) bombards me in my newsfeed. It’s not fun scrolling down and deciding which ones will I read. Many of these are articles that are satirical in nature, conspiracy theories or downright fake news. The boom of Facebook was a blessing and a curse to the immigrant communities. With 2.23 billion users, Facebook has become the number one social media site in the world. It was a blessing because through it, separated migrant families are able to connect in real time. However, it is also a curse because it has become a venue for the proliferation of misinformation.
Communicating then and now
My father was an OFW. He was a seaman. Like many OFWs today, he left his family in order for us to have a better life. He would leave for six months at a time and when he returned home, would only stay for about a month until he had to leave again. Every six months became yearly. We didn’t hear from him for long periods of time. When we did, it came in the form of a cassette tape. A cassette tape is a type of recording device. My father would record his voice in it and he would tell us stories about what was going on with him on the ship, what he wanted from us and when he would be coming home. We would receive four or five cassette tapes at a time. My mother would call us all to the dinner table to listen. Being around a cassette player and listening to my father’s voice was a family affair. We were excited and looked forward to it.
Then came the prepaid international phone cards in the nineteen eighties. Migrants (and members of our community) often use these cards to call family and friends in the Philippines. These cards were easy to use and a low-cost way to make overseas calls. This is what I used in order to communicate with my family when I came to Canada in the eighties. It gave me a chance to directly talk to them and hear their voices. It was something that I looked forward to every end of the month.
Technology truly is blazing forward faster than we thought it would. In the mid-nineteen nineties, when the internet was being introduced to the public through dial-up phone lines, many communications digital platforms were introduced. There were emails and chatrooms. Internet companies like AOL (America Online) and MSN (Microsoft Network) introduced the instant messaging systems. Groups and “Forums” were also introduced; these were the predecessors of Facebook. Many of these, albeit in a more developed format, still exist today.
When the internet became mainstream, every Generation Xer, myself included, had an ICQ account. It was an instant messaging client whose name was derived from the English phrase “I seek you”. Soon after, MySpace and Friendster were born. Consecutively, two of the giants in social media world were launched, Facebook in 2005 and Twitter in 2006.
Social Media and Migrants
As the means of communications evolve, so do the ways migrants abroad communicate with their families. They are always on the hunt for the cheapest and quickest way to reach their families back home. Facebook gives them the space not only to communicate directly, but also to be able to virtually raise their families from afar. With the mushrooming and accessibility of smart phones, parents that are working abroad are able to monitor the growth of their children, their school, do homework etc. Pictures are shared among each other. Children can also share their grades from school, their birthday parties, etc. And parents in turn can share photos of the nice picturesque places they’ve been to and the food that they had. It’s definitely light-years from my time.On the other hand, some experts say that the wanton use of smartphones, tablets and social media create isolation for the children. In an article from Fortune magazine entitled “How Smart Phones and Social Media can Steal Childhood”, it wrote that “A study led by Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, found that U.S. teens who spend more time online are less happy than those who pursue other activities. In other research, Twenge sited that social media is contributing to a rise in teen depression”. Many children, and not just the ones left behind by their parents, are into smart devices. Jenny Radesky, a clinical instructor in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at Boston University suggests that some research would argue that educational television and interactive media can help a child learn vocabulary and reading.
On the other hand, Radesky also voiced her concern through an online website Big Think that “over the use of gadgetry as a substitute for learning, as she fears it could impair a child’s ability to empathize and problem-solve—social nuances that are learned during unstructured play”. This of course has a greater impact on the children of migrants who are separated from their parents. Listening to their mom or dad who is an OFW through Facebook or Skype has become individualized.
Dependency on social media
In the article that was released by Philippine news outlet ABS-CBN News in February of this year, it stated, “For the third year in a row, the Philippines emerged as the country that spent the most time on social media”. The Inquirer. Net further said that “there were 67 million accounts on Facebook in the Philippines” that spend “an average of 3 hours and 57 minutes a day on social media sites, mainly on Facebook”.
This does not mean that these many people are well informed about what’s going on in the world. Many migrants and Filipinos engaged in social media have become “Facebook readers”. I coined the phrase to point out the people that read the headlines and immediately “like” or “share” whatever they saw without reading the content or the whole article. I’m most definitely sure that you got one of those. However, this topic constitutes another separate article that I will be doing next.
Migrant children have become dependent on smart gadgets and social media and networking. It became their substitute parents, giving them guidance on what they should do in life in the absence of their own parents. With the explosion of fake news in the last few years, the issue has become worrisome.
Will I suggest going back to cassettes in the communication of separated migrant families? Definitely not. However, the bigger issue still remains unanswered. Why do we have to leave the Philippines in the first place? Why do families have to be separated in order to have a better life?