May 26

Techno-humans

How technology interacts with migration

Last week we brought together Full Circle Ideas and TeenClub members for an eye-opening discussion on the ways technology and migration influence one another in the modern world. The evening opened up many intriguing and unexpected avenues for debate, and left us all with lots to think about.

For those who missed out, TeenClub member Alice gives an insightful recap of the event:

“Last Friday, the second Full Circle Triptych took place on the topic of Techno-migrant. The table at the very front quickly became the young table – three teens and a millennial ready to power on their neurons for the night.

“As everyone settled down, Full Circle co-founder Louise introduced the three speakers: Sandra Ponzanesi, Leo Lucassen and Alison Killing. I won’t give you their bio here because wikipedia and the Full Circle website will probably do a better job of it, but I will tell you that they all had so many things to say (as Full Circle speakers always do) that it’s almost impossible for me to give you a summary of what went on that evening (you weren’t there so it’s your loss). Instead I’ll just highlight some of the most interesting ideas which were thrown around – and which I actually managed to catch in my notes. 

“Sandra mentioned that a lot of people in Europe believe that technology is something only available to rich, advanced, western societies, and so we think, wow, migrants must not be poor since they all have smartphones. But we forget that these people (Alison urged us to think of them as people, because that’s who they are – they aren’t some weird alien species that are different from us and that we have to classify under the label ‘migrants’ or ‘refugees’) were also born in the digital age, and that smartphones are super cheap nowadays. It’s something we shouldn’t forget.

“Not only do all these people have smartphones, it’s one of if not the most important things they carry with them when they leave their home, and the speakers mentioned how important it is for them to be able to charge them.

“Sandra then pointed out how smartphones are great, but they also have their downsides. When they arrive in their host countries, these people may become isolated within a small community of people with the same origins/culture as them (which is rendered possible through social media and smartphones). Nonetheless, their phones could also be their gateway into discovering and integrating their new home, so it’s important to remember that technology is often a double-edged sword.

“Leo talked more about technology in the sense which we often forget about – innovations such as navigation and trains – which have allowed migrations to take place since the beginning of time; then he asked us to reflect on what novelty smartphones really bring to the migration scene. For example, sure, they allow us to send messages across the world, and they allow us to contact people a lot faster than before; but it’s not like we couldn’t contact people before – we had letters.

“He also stressed how limited our view of migrants is – everyone in the expat community in Brussels is a migrant. Migrants aren’t just the people fleeing their countries in a state of emergency.

“The last really interesting point he made was that we really have to realise that migration is the engine of social change. He’s a historian, so of course this is a topic which he probably focuses on a lot, and he gave a few examples to which everyone kind of nodded along thinking yea, I never thought of it that way, but migration really has a lot to do with these phenomenon – like why Scandinavians are so collective, and how many US soldiers posted in Europe played a major role in the civil rights movement. He was my favorite speaker.

“Finally, Alison mostly talked about her project – Migration Trail, which is based around an interactive map and a podcast series to teach people about migration. This showed how technology on our side is also important, to help us understand the complex theme which is migration. To be honest, I was so tired by this point that I didn’t take down much of what she said, so this is it for her.

“During the discussion, a particularly interesting topic came up, which tied back to the first triptych on borders. In short, we talked about how today technological borders are the real barriers, not physical borders. Indeed, they are a far more effective way for governments to prevent people from integrating a community or society, because in a lot of places, you have to be legally registered in a country to have access to healthcare, education, etc…

“That’s definitely not all that was talked about, but it gives you a general idea of the evening, and it’s hopefully a good piece of brain food too!”

By Alice G, TeenClub member

The evening was part of ur three-part series on the future of migration. Like our Facebook page for updates about the third and final instalment: Triptych #3: Fast-Forward Climate Migration in March!