A centerpiece of my book The Labor of Care is the chapter called “Skype Mothers and Facebook Children”. In it, I look at how care work and intimacy between transnational family members is shaped by information communication technologies (ICTs), specifically, Skype and Facebook during the time I was collecting research in the 2000s.
In the chapter, I argue that new care providers, patterns of care work and forms of care emerge from families building relationships and intimacy through technology. Different types too. Skype with its visual register will engender a different type of intimate relationship than Facebook with its up-to-the-minute updates of where children and migrant mothers are. And although, technology brings new possibilities of supporting relationships over long distances, it also sometimes hinders relationships through an “all seeing eye” specter.
I say all of this because as I see people post their Zoom calls on gallery view and create virtual runs and virtual watch parties. I think about how this chapter in my book resonates with how we’re all trying our best to stay connected and together even while apart. Just like the migrant mothers and their families in the Philippines in my book, we have increasingly seen innovative strategies in which people are doing their very best to link up even if our mandate is “shelter in place”. I’m doing it too! Below you’ll see a few of my friends and I at a virtual tea party!
In the book, I wanted to highlight the ways that transnational family members craft these impressive abilities to stay connected through long distances and long periods of time. And yet, these strategies are only possible in fact because they are necessary in a world where families are forced to be separated to sustain their livelihoods. It was important to me to write about this version of motherhood during a historical moment where the conduit of migrant mothering and daughtering, son-ning and husbanding from the Philippines was technology.
I pause here to note that we are also innovating under these dire circumstances. We are in no way under the same conditions as migrant women who are forced to migrate to sustain their family’s livelihoods in the Philippines. No way. But it is so clear to me that our social interactions are so shaped by our political, economic and social conditions and that technology is crucial in that.
Lastly, being on lock down and creating these virtual social spaces reminds me that the public health crisis in COVID-19 is also framed by the crisis of scarcity in a time of monopoly capitalism. That’s a big leap, I know.
Here’s why I’m ending with this: the toilet paper crisis, the economic impact on small business owners (many of them people of color, immigrants, like my family members), the crisis in accessible health, the rent and mortgage crisis, the education and childcare crisis. All of which are already ruptures in a capitalist world, and are now agape as the clock in and grind schedules come to a halt.
I know people are feeling isolated and alone and scared and precarious. The reality is that we were already feeling that way and it took COVID-19 to confirm that, and to remind us that we are part of something way bigger. That perhaps, we should fight to change that something.