Bridging the gaps of proximity

The misuse of the internet in various ways can harm and fragment relationships and communities, but I also agree that the internet can help keep friends and family in touch with each other, particularly for immigrants who cannot bridge the proximity gap.

Studying the nature of online interactivity can be so beneficial in general, but as discussed in my “Immigrants: ditch the identity crisis” blog, your family and lifelong friends have likely shifted into a digital community, which makes knowledge of digital communication so important. Sherry Turkle, a sociologist, licensed clinical psychologist and Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technologies at MIT, is a wonderful source of reference. Turkle’s chapter on Anxiety in her book, Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other, had me reflecting on a few points that I deem relevant to immigration.  

When you immigrate, the separation from loved ones, like best friends or your mother, or father, or a sibling, can be especially difficult during such a traumatic transition. Even when you are prepared and excited for your journey, it simply just is a massive life change and that is why it’s classified as traumatic. But with technology now, you don’t need to feel as cut off from your loved ones, which is a blessing and comfort. The flip side, however, is that you could find yourself in excessive contact with your digital community at the expense of fostering new face-to-face relationships in your new community; or the relationship between you and your digitally based loved ones could be strained due to the complexity of digital communication.

Turkle shares a story about a daughter (Julia), separated from her father, struggling to manage the initiation and frequency of digital communication between the two of them; also, much like this daughter, I too am not the biggest fan of talking on the phone (Turkle, 2011, p. 244 – 245). In all my life, I have never enjoyed using the telephone and preferred in-person interaction or text. This sadly has resulted in my losing contact or strong connections with many loved ones abroad. I have the choice of working on trying to turn this dislike into a like, which is a worthy cause, or at minimum, being intentional about my text communication. The risk with text communication as we know, is that it can be less personable and due to the absence of facial queues and tones, can cause unnecessary miscommunication. The onus is on me, if I choose text communication over audio or video calls, to communicate with as much detail, explanations, mutual interest, and emotive expression as possible.  

Julia’s life is marked by transitions and separations and her fear is disconnection; her mother is her safety net and Julia’s cell phone embodies their presence (Turkle, 2011, p. 246). It is sad when we lose contact with loved ones far away, and I encourage everyone to foster those relationships; however, I would argue that there is such a thing as too much contact too. In my opinion, a mobile phone should not become the “symbol of physical and emotional safety” (Turkle, 2011, p. 247). The reality is that your loved ones abroad aren’t physically with you. If you do not build new deep relationships with people in your new community, you won’t have anyone to share special occasions with. When you have any type of emergency or need someone to look after your kids at the drop of a hat, you want to have someone you feel comfortable to call on.

You could fall into any of these categories mentioned and there will be more scenarios, benefits, and risks of digital communications for immigrants. All we can strive for is to use these digital platforms to our benefit while being cognisant of where we could make improvements or healthy adjustments.   


Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other.

Yochai, B. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom.

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