Being Together, Alone Together

I live about 4,100 miles from my mother. She’s in snowy Canada, I’m in (temporarily) snowy England. We talk regularly, email daily, and are “friends” on Facebook. I “see” her all the time. It’s not the same as in person, but still.

I wouldn’t notice if Twitter’s servers self-combusted, and I could live without Facebook, though it might be harder to find apartments or make contacts in [insert travel destination here], or to live vicariously through my acquaintances. (But then I might spend less time “liking” things and more time finding things I like.) If Skype irrevocably crashed, however, I would lose face-to-face contact (blurry and sometimes warped but still) with my family and closest friends, not to mention am affordable way to work across the Atlantic Ocean. More about that absurdity another time.

The Atlantic Monthly posted shots from photographer John Clang’s series Being Together. Clang, who immigrated from Singapore to New York more than a decade ago, superimposed photographs of people in their houses with photos of the relatives they Skype with projected on the walls. It brings them into view, if not in person. The story went online last September, but somehow it passed me in the slipstream of the internet.

I’m gearing up to write about communities the operate online and what lurks in the shadows of anonymity. I’ll also look at the perils of the modern, digital nomad. For a social science primer I’ll check out Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, a book that is at the top of my reading queue. Then I’ll probably Skype with someone far away. Then I’ll turn off my computer and go outside, dreary as a January day in London is.

More Reading
+ Go to The Atlantic for more images and quotes from Clang. And visit his website.

+ If you just so happen to be in Singapore, see Clang’s exhibit at the National Museum and take one of his masterclasses. The masterclasses end February 2 and the exhibit runs from January 23 to May 26, 2013.

+ Listen to an interview with Sherry Turkle on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Living Among the Sámi

American photographer Erika Larsen spent four years among the Sámi, an indigenous tribe who live in Scandinavia. Her photos show a people whose lives straddle tradition and modern life in a landscape that is beautiful, raw, and beyond stunning.

When they’re travelling, the Sámi stay in lávuts (shown above), their temporary homes on the tundra.

To see more of Larsen’s work, visit National Geographic’s online photo gallery.

Nomads Don’t Have iPads*


[Zunn Taiga, Mongolia, 2007]

Maria Popova’s Brainpickings is always fascinating, but for the sake of productivity I try to occasionally shut down my computer and smell the English roses here in London. So I was glad my friend Allan Casey–author of the lovely book Lakeland–tipped me off on a post about a new tome on nomads. Described by Popova as a “visual anthropology,” this book by the Dutch photographer Jeroen Toirkens and writer Jelle Brandt Corstius looks at nomadic tribes in Russia, Mongolia, The Arctic and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Their lives, judging by some of the images, are both modern and old fashioned.

In an interview with Gizmodo, Toirkens said:

"The most impressive thing about nomads I’ve learned in the past 12 years is their amazing resilience and capacity to adapt to changes. Nomads have been adapting to change for ages. They are living on the edges of our society and earth. Both literally and figuratively.

One of my favourite photos is of the Kola Sámi of Russia. Notice the street-light?

The book grew out of Toirkens’ project Nomads Life, which aims to document the life and culture of traditional nomads.

My only quibble is the notion that these are the “world’s last living nomads.” Through The Modern Nomad and the subsequent book, I’m seeking to explore different ideas of nomadism and tribes and communities. As we say in publishing, more TK.

*Headline stolen from Gizmodo.