OBJECTS, FLOWS AND A COMPLEX TIME
Three weeks ago I subscribed to an online channel where I can finally watch a wide range of media content from my home country, the Philippines. I was just so excited the moment I played a content - an online news. I then started seeing familiar faces and hearing familiar voices. These people started to occupy the screen of my television. I just thought that the voice of the broadcaster reverberated in the living room of my apartment, or even in a quietness of my neighbourhood. Personally, the sound provided a sense of comfort. I just thought that such familiar voice of a Filipino broadcaster would just suddenly transport me back - imaginatively - to my homeland. It also brought back so many memories of growing up in the Philippines. Nevertheless, the moment of consuming a media content back home essentially provided a unique affective state which I would probably not experience if I am living with my family and friends in the Philippines. Being physically away but at the same time feeling a sense of connectedness was too strong. But more than this, the conflation of the physical and offline world generated disruptive feelings. It even made me think of how my sense of time has become mediated and messy through objects, practices and flows.
We live in a mobile world. We are surrounded with mobile devices, platforms, as well as a wide range of digital information that constantly flow in all possible directions. Digital communication technologies and personalised data shape our everyday rhythms. We know that having the phone in our bedside table would basically impact our morning routine. Any sound coming from the digital device would wake us up because we know that such sound signals either an important message that has to be addressed or a phone call that should be picked up especially when there's an emergency. On an everyday basis, mobile devices become the instrument that constructs our movements. We are reminded with what we should be doing at a particular time because of the mobile device - either for work, going out with friends, or simply working things out with our family. But it's a different story in the case of migrant. Mobile device does not only serve as a lifeline to connect back home. It also moulds everyday movements, or perhaps the juggling of different worlds. Here, the mere presence of the mobile device as well as the sound it generates, and the information it produces could affect a migrant's rhythms. We know that meanings are assigned to objects. In such case, the device symbolises family bonding or intimate moments with a partner based overseas.
Objects mediate our movements. In the first instance, the mechanical clock determines our activities - for work, family time, and other activities. We know that we have to meet people or do things at a particular set of time by just looking at the clock - the one on the wall. However, the advent of the mobile device has shown how mobile objects have reshaped our sense of time, as well as organise our movements. We no longer have to look at clock on the wall or be specific with our schedules. We can organise and re-organise our movements with others through the mobile phone. However, an object like a mobile phone can also mediate, organise or become an object to fulfil obligation especially among geographically separated families who sustain relationships through devices. In my case, the mere presence of the device serves as a reminder of what I should be doing especially in 'sustaining' relationships back home, and this is alongside my other activities that I have to juggle in Melbourne.
Objects make us move, and so as emotions. These emotions could be produced by the meanings ascribed to the phone as related to knowing time. Further, proximity of the object entangled with the familial obligations certainly shapes movements and mobility decisions. For instance, with my phone beside me at 11 pm, I would be reminded that I should be calling back home. There are obligations to address. This is on top of juggling the time difference between Melbourne, Australia and the Philippines. Schedules have to be re-organised as well especially when daylight saving sets in. And if my phone is from afar, I don't see it, and I am not pressured to address a task for my family, then I am fine with moving around and just leaving my phone elsewhere. My point is, to connect and be connected is always stirred by an obligation to engage. Even if my phone is not beside me and I know that I have to contact my family at a particular time then I would search for my phone and make a call. But in times that the obligation to connect is not needed then the phone stays somewhere. Importantly, emotions move me to connect. And feelings are entangled with familial obligations. Of course, I don't want to miss an important conversation with my loved ones back home. And if I feel 'homesick' then I search for my phone or I make sure that my phone is within reach so I can communicate. Nevertheless, the mobile phone essentially constructs the time when I should be connecting, speaking or laughing with my family. And time differences have to be managed. But transnational connectivity can be very challenging as well especially when movements require energy and the worlds we all live in are uneven . One cannot just contact someone especially when the body is in a state of exhaustion.
For the case of a migrant, everyday movements overseas do not only include addressing work life, doing grocery, going out with friends, travelling sometimes, or trying to stay at home to save money. A sense of time has been mediated by the features of the mobile device - platforms to use, apps to engage with, calling or texting, and so forth. However, for 'family time' to work, one needs, according to John Urry, a certain level of 'network capital' (the capacity to access instruments to sustain relations stretched across time and space). Through mediated interactions, the flows of the familiar voice could mend a lonely feeling. Further, visuals cues through Skype, which often need larger data to work, could mobilise a temporary escape from the pains of separation. They construct what it's like to perform 'family time'.
Now that I have recently subscribed to an online channel back home, my personal time has been reconfigured. I do not only direct my attention to my mobile phone to embody a sense of home. This is because I can connect with my loved ones or I can imagine their ambient co-presence by seeing their images when I open Facebook. But I also consider other devices as a conduit to update me about what's happening back home, which reports essentially are not discussed in detailed by my loved ones. In here, what could be edited in conversations among family members would be presented in full details through the online channel. Separated family members often hide information from each other as not to cause anxiety or too much worrying. To be physically separated is already anxiety inducing. Of course the information through that channel curate the national and global issues that could impact a transnational life. One may ask, why not talk about the issues through phone conversations or through Skype? I say, it is painful. Ambivalence seems to have become the normalised affective state of living away from each other, and such feeling could be amplified when flows of 'horrible' stories takes center stage in national narratives. However, as supported by my own PhD research, accessing news back home matters because media content becomes a focal point in enabling mobility decisions and actions in relation to ensuring the safety of one's own family. So in my case having the connection to an online channel has opened new opportunities to see what's happening back home. Consuming Philippine news has become part of my daily activities. I have to know what's happening back home. Significantly, watching the news starts with 'knowing' that infrastructures of connectivity exist in my apartment. I know that I have an internet connectivity, the laptop and all the wires that would make 'online consumption' possible. And with the flows of information through the television, thanks to chrome casting, my sense of time is again reconfigured. This time, family time is no longer about having chats or bonding with my family. It's about accessing narratives that would allow myself to imagine the future of my family as well as my friends back home.
Accessing online news reshapes my sense of time. It may be 10 in the evening in Melbourne but I watch the 6 pm news in the Philippines. I sometimes feel that my sense of time has become unstable and messy because of the conflation of the 'there' and the 'here' or even the 'a while ago' and the 'now'. Of course I would know the actual time if I look at my watch or if I see my phone because I am reminded of my phone that I should be talking to my dad at 11 pm Melbourne time or I need to speak with my partner. Notably, disruption of time is also enacted when the online channel uploads the content of yesterday's report. Time is even made complex when feelings start to occupy such mediated activities. The comfort associated with watching The Project (an Australian TV show) is in contrast with the feeling of seating in a very comfortable sofa while a Filipino reporter through the online channel presents the unimaginable consequences of a typhoon back home. Affect flows, sometimes stabbing, because of the contradictions of the actual life experienced by my left-behind family members as opposed to one's state of pleasantness in Melbourne. Through such feelings, all of a sudden, winter becomes as warm as hell because of the news accessed back home. Truth is, I draw reflections on such moments. The uncomfortable feeling constructs a sensation that sometimes makes me wonder about the asymmetries and pains created by a neoliberal society.
Watching news back home at 10 pm always remind me of my childhood. I couldn't help but think about those days when my siblings and I would be scolded by our housemaid or by some of our relatives because we would be sitting in front of the television instead of eating at the dining table. It was routine mediated by the media. We would be gathering around the television. We would be watching but often would just stop and talk. There was a sense of comfort at that time. Consuming news was part of our everyday life as a child because we get to hang around as a family. We're there physically together. It was family time. But not it's a different story when I watch news online. Certainly, that feeling of comfort or of being in a space surrounded by familiar elements - the language, spaces projected through the television, and even the funny music - determines the embodiment of home. But it's a different story now. I am away from my family. I won't be able to do the family time again by watching news online. But I have to reclaim my sense of home as tied to practices and nostalgia. I thrive in pockets of moments which often burst when a wave of shock tends to be domineering. However, to achieve that proximity through mediated practices can also be painful. Knowing and processing what's happening back home can be devastating at times. Notably, 'homemaking' begins with the presence of infrastructures of connectivity. The phone, the laptop, the other many devices, and the cables allow for the flows of images, sound and text back home to happen. I benefit from this. I feel a sense of connection. But the moment I start devouring stories back home, I am moved in different ways. I always end up feeling overwhelmed and bloated. Too much, I say. And I ask myself, 'why watch?' The answer is, it's home. I consume information because such practice allows me to locate myself as a Filipino as well as think about my loved ones, my countrymen. And stories online as presented by the media also construct not only the present. They evoke the future. I am no longer thinking about the 'now'. I am subjecting myself to deep reflections about where do I move amidst the chaos brought upon by the constant disruption and denial of rights and justice in the Philippines. Whenever I watch news back home, I am reminded that consumption is mediated by the presence of the device as well as the obligations to know and affective states. And as I come to an end in watching the news, I ask myself, 'What time is it?" Really, here I am moving back and forth across space and time - imaginative travel it is - where I constantly try to find a settling feeling. Maybe I can find that peace. Yes, only in my dreams and not until my alarm clock goes off again.
I am Dr Earvin Charles Cabalquinto. My research interests lie in the intersections of digital media, mobilities and migration.