Youtube and Spotify know when I am missing Hong Kong (although that is a Chinese music video in Shanghai, but you can’t control emotional associations)
For the last two and a half years, I lived in a country that was not my own. I moved to Hong Kong in a short notice and did not know much about the place before arriving. As so many people do, I started using technologies to find my way around. Af first I relied on the usual “neutral” apps: wouldn’t step out of my apartment without Google Maps and would only know where to eat if Foursquare directed me to a vegetarian-friendly shop.
With the passing of the months, I had to also move my digital presence to my new physical place. To my surprise, it was very cumbersome to change my Google, Apple and Spotify accounts from Brazil to Hong Kong. But it was necessary, both to allow for adding my new local forms of payment and for getting access to local apps. Netflix did not require such a maneuver, but my options for consumption in the platform were automatically changed. Of course, in due time, I forgot what I lost and started to enjoy the Asian content that was new to me.
In order to keep up with local news, I started following Hong Kong media on Twitter, then Chinese and Asian media more broadly, as traveling took me to those places and made me more invested in their realities. Around the same time, local social scientists started creeping up in my feed, as did local photographers on Instagram, both because the platform suggested them to me and because I was getting more and more attached to images of specific roads, neons, bamboo scaffolding and all sorts of daily mundane details that make a place dear to us. Slowly but surely, as I became accustomed to those sights and because I recognised them, they started becoming part of my identity.
My support systems for living in the in 852* had by them changed almost completely: I checked the weather using the Hong Kong Observatory‘s app; the Hong Kong Public Libraries‘ app was something I couldn’t live without; Foodpanda and Deliveroo fed me, HSBC Hong Kong‘s app made me anxious. Not to sound offensive, but was I not, at least digitally, a bit of a Hongkonger?
Thousands of tiny (mostly) perfectly rational and practical decisions ended up amounting to some sort of (quite emotional) identity shift. Which was reinforced by locals interpreting my ethnically ambiguous face as Chinese, only to be corrected by my reaction, that was usually just looking very surprised and confused.
Now I am a Brazilian who lives in Edinburgh and has to decide what to do with this digital Hongkonger self. There is no playbook for that. Some things are not a matter of choice, so I find myself once again suffering with Google, Apple and Spotify. But what about the Facebook page of my former running community; the Instagram account from the vegan restaurant in my neighbourhood that was pretty much my dining room; the local charity from which I adopted my two lovely cats? If I keep all of these, am I maintaining my Hongkonger digital self alive? Would that stop me from moving on and developing a more current digital identity? Killing her feels like killing a part of myself that I actually kinda like. But honestly, can I even move on, when different social media platforms still recommend me HK content and Google Photos keeps bringing up memories? Is it up to me?
I just don’t know what to do with my(digital)self.
*852 is HK’s area code and how locals sometimes refer to
here there. You know, just something we locals do.