Michael Kirsch, in his article defending citizenship-based taxation, talks about how easier it is for American emigrants to maintain ties to the homeland in the age of the Internet. I have seen the same argument in many different places, applied to many of the world's diasporas. Email, Skype, message boards and the like are all means that migrants use to keep in touch with family and to stay abreast of major events in the homeland.
In my email in-box this morning I received yet another solicitation from the New York Times. Yet another "special offer" enticing me to subscribe for a very modest fee. Since the New York Times is, to a very great extent, one of the United States' few truly national newspapers, it might seem a no-brainer for an American migrant like myself to leap at the chance to stay up to date with what's going on "over there."
And yet, it really holds no appeal for me and I have to ask myself why that is. Some of it is surely information overload. There are only so many hours in a day and much to do: gardening, going to the parish, going into Paris, going to the clinic, cooking, cleaning, quilting and, yes, reading books, email and on-line articles and writing.
But far more of it is probably related to my level of integration in my host country and the relevance of American events to my daily life. Over the years what is happening here became much more interesting and useful to me personally then what was going on over there. Reading about the fight over the "ecotax" here is not only of interest to me, it's something of interest to the people I meet every day. It's news that not only sparks conversations but allows me to participate in ongoing ones.
Reading the New York Times just doesn't help me connect in my day to day social circle, and it's not just a matter of the topics which are very centered on the US but also a question of language. Most of my friends here in Versailles either don't speak English at all or don't care to do so with me. When I step out of my house French rules and it's the language I live in for the most part. Furthermore, if some topic or event of international interest comes up then it will always be picked up by the local national papers like Le Monde and I can read about it there. And then, if I'm really interested, I'll do a google search and see what the American papers are saying.
That's pretty much how it works for me. Let me assure you that it wasn't by design and it didn't happen overnight. It was a slow process that took many years and might change again if there is some pressing reason for me to once again follow the news from the homeland more closely. Right now I am following the debates over citizenship-based taxation and FATCA with great interest but what I read is more likely to come from non-US sources since the American media hasn't been very interested in the story.
What about conversations with friends and family back in the US? Are they a source of news? Honestly, not so much. Most of our emailing back and forth has to do with family matters: health, jobs, gardening, children and the like. Yes, every so often they will share their pleasure (or displeasure) over some issue that has Americans talking (Obamacare, for example, or gay rights) but that's about the extent of it.
So from where I sit the idea that technology has dramatically changed the ability of a migrant to stay in touch with the former home is true and not true. It's true that it is easier to stay in touch with friends and family. I remember the days before skype and email - it was a time of expensive international phone calls and letters (you know the things we used to write on dead trees and mail from the local post office with pretty stamps?) The ability to send a message to my mother and get an answer the same day, made a world of difference. But the ties that are reinforced by this constant messaging are not national ones. They involve a very small group of people in a particular place, the American west coast, and that's about it. Because they are so limited by kinship and geography, I find that they do not serve to reaffirm my ties to the American nation. On the contrary, sometimes I have the sense that, for me, the Pacific Northwest is the only part of the US that really counts with the rest of the country being a great mystery to me. Something that was true, by the way, even before I left the US since I never travelled much around the country when I lived there. I am more at home in Tokyo having lived there for a few years than I was in New York, a place I visited for only a few days a few years ago. I've seen more of Shanghai then of Sacramento where my brother lives with my five nieces and nephews.
Based on what I have seen and lived, I would say that the picture of the modern diaspora eager for (and lapping up) news from "home" is not entirely accurate. The homeland news is there to read for anyone with an Internet connection, mail from family and friends is always welcome, and a phone call can make one's day (unless, of course, the caller took no notice whatsoever of the time difference) but to extrapolate from that and claim that these new communication methods fundamentally change the migrant's relationship to the home nation-state, that it is a factor (I've seen this assertion) in the non-integration of migrants in the host countries, and that one can now assume that all migrants everywhere are aware of the smallest details gripping the national consciousness on any particular day is a real stretch. I genuinely don't think it works quite that way.