Grandfather and his little terrier Bitsy live on the Arkansas side of Texarkana on a stretch of land we call Thomasville (after our family name). To emphasize how disconnected I felt from technology and social media (I didn’t really get the point), I would tell my friends that my grandfather is on Facebook more than me.
Our family keeps up with each other on the family Facebook page and through an email list-serve. Mom, her sisters, and her brothers bought grandfather a digital photo frame that links with his Facebook to display his photo albums. Pictures that he’s tagged in will automatically download to his digital frame. Our family started tagging him in first-day-of-school photos of great-grandkids, in graduations, and in updated family pictures. Grandfather wasn’t physically in any of these photos, but our tagging him on Facebook placed him in the center of these family moments (from the viewing comfort of his dining room chair).
A 2013 article by Meera Venkatraman, “Consuming digital technologies and making home,” studied how army wives used social media to create the immediate, intimate family moments their husbands missed out on while stationed far from their physical homes.1 They brought their husbands into the center of the home by having them be telepresent through facetiming and messaging. And they extended the boundaries of their homes by tagging their husbands in pictures of moments with family and friends (much like we do for grandfather).
The digital narrative of home was stable even if the physical place was much more fluid. Though this study did not specifically touch on literature or the environment, it brings up the idea that creating a shared digital home might change how we interact online and offline with the world around us.
What is home and how do we build it when we are more transient than we ever have been? This is a major concern of a field called ecopoetics. Palouse-based poet Linda Russo explains ecopoetics as a practice of exploring (as either a reader or writer) environmental themes which she defines broadly to include an attentiveness towards home, (non)humanness, and creativity. The role of ecopoetry is to reconsider our ongoing understandings of what it is to be human, to be at home, and to be in nature.2
I’ve been questioning recently what it means (for me) to be at home and to feel rooted in a place. I’ve mistakenly thought this might mean returning to my so-called roots in Texas (where I spent most of my time reading or watching TV to escape). Now I wonder what I look for in a physical place that makes it feel at home and how I use digital spaces to create a sense of stability in the meantime.
I’m looking for a synaesthetic moment in a place, where all my senses converge onto one meaning (that of home). Until then, I depend on viewing my home through pixelation, hearing my home through earbuds, and feeling it through the tap-tap of the keys on my keyboard.
(Click to see my recent digital project Home: A Memoir)