Yesterday, an earthquake scaled at an 8.0 set off Tsunami warnings across the coast of Latin America. I had seen the news reports regarding the Earthquakes, but I failed to put together that this could have such a catastrophic effect on a place I had once thought of as home, the Galapagos Islands. When I spent four months here last semester, I grew attached. Anyone spending four months anywhere would grow attached. You develop roots, you develop a routine, you build a family. When I saw the Facebook status of a good friend who was still living there, stating that the islands were on red alert, church bells and sirens were blaring, and the entire 6,000 person community was moving to higher ground in the highlands, my heart skipped a beat. What about my host family? I thought. Would the stray dogs who followed me to school everyday know to move to higher ground as well? Would people help the family members of my friends who didn’t have cars? Despite being thousands of miles away, despite having being separated from this place for four months, the connection I felt was strong and the fear and empathy I felt was very real.
What allows me to maintain this connection is the media, the internet, and the fiberoptic cables that link us to each other across the entire world. It was through these mediums that I was able to reach out to my host family and my friends who live there and ensure that they were safe. It was through social media, the often criticized tools of Facebook and Twitter, that I was able to stay notified of any progress in the event and the preparedness of the nation. It was through my phone, that is conveniently always with me, that I was able to check news outlets for continuous, up to the second updates on the state of the community and the disaster conditions.
For all the hate that social media receives, it has allowed me to continue a relationship with a place very far from where I currently am. It allows me to maintain relationships that otherwise would have been lost. The internet and the cyber world does not replace the physical world by any means. Of course I would love to be back on that island, and of course I would love to check in with my host family and friends face to face. The wish to be there physically has not dimmed. In fact, it has only grown stronger. But I feel just as invested in the state of Ecuador now as I did four months ago. I would still consider Ecuador home. And it is the internet and social media and other forms of cyber communication that allows these feelings to persist. As we move into the future of the internet, we are breaking down geographic barriers and letting the whole world exist as one place. We are better connected to each other, and our homes.