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A SHRED OF PLACE IN A DIGITAL ERA HUMANITARIAN DISASTER.pdf

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The concept of “other place”, introduced by Michel Foucault in the late 1960’s, and of “non-place” made a tool for describing contemporary world by philosophers and anthropologists, since the 1980’s sadly acquires its full meaning in the territories
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  3 D INTERN TION L CONFERENCE PL CES ND TECHNOLOGIES ,  BEOGR D   2016 SHRED   OF   PL CE   IN   DIGIT L   ER HUM NIT RI N   DIS STER   Nora Lefa MSc MA PhD candidate, National Technical University of Athens, 77 Skoufa Street, 10680 Athens, nora_arch@yahoo.gr  Prof. Dr. Pavlos Lefas University of Patras, Greece, 77 Skoufa Street, 10680 Athens, pavloslefas@gmail.com A BSTRACT The concept of “other place”, introduced by Michel Foucault in the late 1960’s, and of “non - place” made a tool for describing contemporary world by philosophers and anthropologists, since the 1980’s sadly acquires its full meaning in the territories where refugees seek temporarily shelter, and in the paths they follow to reach their final destination rather, than in airports and shopping malls of affluent societies. In 2015 the E.U. witnessed an unprecedented influx of refugees from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The great majority of these people crossed the sea from Turkey to Greece on overcrowded boats. They were able to carry a minimum of personal belongings with them; the object of choice for many was their smartphone. Such devises allowed them to take memories of their severed lives with them, in form of pictures, archives of mail exchanges, or contact lists. If home comes increasingly to be more about a set of personal activities and relationships than an established continuum of habitation in the same location, then technology can substitute for some of the loss inflicted by the more or less inescapable decision to leave home; technology allows people to preserve a shred of home and of “their” place, and ultimately of their identity in their pockets.      Keywords : Non-place, refugees, smartphones, home Topics:  Resilience of places INTRODUCTION In a recent conversation with a group of rather leftist undergraduate students in Greece on the implications of the current refugee and migrant crisis, we gathered that the majority of the participants had a favorable opinion of the newcomers. It stemmed from the impression that “these people are similar to us” as one  put it, while the others nodded with their heads to signify their agreement. The rationale: “they are all familiar with digital technology, they all have smartphones”. Although the reasoning probably referred to young refugees and migrants (who, in any case, constitute the vast majority of the newcomers), it is testimony to the new common ground that technology helps bring about between people of considerably different cultural backgrounds. Digital literacy obviously helped refugees and migrants prove that they weren’t alien to the culture of the people they met during their long journey. More importantly, though, smartphones allow refugees and migrants feel a bit like at home even in the dire situation they have found themselves. The current paper will elaborate on the sense of belonging smartphones and similar devises help bring about in extreme situations like the ones experienced by refugees and migrants who passed through Greece in the late months of 2015. THE   FRAME In 2015 the E.U. witnessed an unprecedented influx of refugees from war-torn Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, but also of undocumented migrants from other Asian and African countries and territories. The great majority of these people crossed the sea from Turkey to Greece on  overcrowded boats; almost all wanted to continue their journey to their European   country of choice, mainly Germany and Sweden. The Greek authorities responded by facilitating, or at least allowing, their journey onwards. Together with, but usually independently of, several NGOs they provided provisional shelter to a small number of the most vulnerable; most of the refugees, though, settled temporarily wherever they could find some room to stretch a blanket or set up a tent: in public squares and in parks, in parking lots and in ports. We met several refugees, focusing on young adults, in both provisional camps and in open-air public spaces in the city of Athens. The choice was random, not least due to the relative reluctance of refugees to participate in any conversation/ interview they thought it might single them out. We nevertheless proceeded with our research, even if we were aware that the youths interviewed were not representative of the refugees crossing to Europe in any sense. Place of srcin, age and educational level were quite diverse, though. Interviews were informal and the nature of the data gathered of qualitative nature rather than quantifiable. We were mostly interested in if at all, and in how those interviewed use digital technology. It is known that digital technology can play an important role in the migrants’ and refugees’  journey to a new homeland, partly alleviating the hardships associated with it. For example, In 2013 an app named "Derechos Herencia" was launched (Capobres 2013), that helps undocumented migrants get to know the rights they are entitled to; specially designed for Latinos crossing to the U.S, it gives information in both Spanish and English. And, photographer Aleksandra Ajdukovic noticed how important iPhones were for refugees from Syria and neighboring countries when she visited them in Belgrade’s Central Park where they spent some time before moving on (Ajdukovic 2015). We also focused our research on how digital technology helps migrants and refugees maintain some kind of bonds to the homes they were forced to quit; maintain some kind of memories of places familiar; and maintain some kind of relations with a part of themselves they were forced to severe off.  QUALITATIVE ASSESMENT OF THE DATA GATHERED The refugees and migrants were able to carry a minimum of personal belongings with them; among the object of choice for many was their smartphone. They took care of it; they wrapped it in watertight plastic bags, and attached them firmly on their life jacket. Following are the three main reasons why they did so, based on a qualitative assessment of their answers on relevant questions. 1. In the first place smartphones were considered a kind of passports that helped the youngsters identify themselves as inhabitants of the so-called global village. 2. The great majority of those interviewed hold on to their smartphones as part of an identity they used to have back home. They gave them a sense of keeping their everyday routine. 3. But, most importantly, smartphones and similar devises allowed the youngsters who used them feel at home in the no- man’s land they found themselves. We noticed just one marked difference in the use of digital technology, and smartphones in particular, between refugees and migrants. It has to do with what we classified as reason 3; we will discuss it later. THEORETICAL BACKDROP We might be able to put in some kind of theoretical perspective the reasons why the migrants and refugees value their smartphones so much. 1. Smartphones as passport of global village citizens. The idea that civilizations may be classified according to the level of their technological advancements has been around for some time. The French anthropologist Leroi-Gourhan  considered the long, continuous development of man’s ability to control his environment as beginning with the use of bare hands, proceeding with the use of tools, which represented a second stage, and the use of machines, which represents a third one, and culminating with the stage in which the press of a button suffices (Leroi-Gourhan 1964); it is a standpoint more or less propounded two decades earlier by the likes of Lewis Mumford (Mumford 1946), and Siegfried Giedion, the secretary of the first CIAMs and renowned architectural historian (Giedion 1948). We are now well past the latest stage described by Leroi-Gourhan, into the information and digital age (Mitchel 2003). Although much of aforementioned theoretical framework was formulated at a time where “progress” was regarded a one -way highway that would bring prosperity and happiness to the whole world, it is still of some value. Technology retains both its appeal and its power, albeit not having the effect the technology-aspired theorists predicted. This very notion is ingrained in the subconscious of the younger generations almost world-wide. And this is what allows the Greek undergraduate students we have conversed with regard the refugees as “similar to us” on the basis of their digital literacy and extensive use of mobile technology. This is what makes everyone proficient in digital technology citizen of the global village. Let us be reminded that the notion of global village was introduced to describe a world shaped by the spread of information technology and by remote access to services (McLuhan 1962, McLuhan 1964). The man who introduced the term, Marshal McLuhan (McLuhan 1996) implied that the kind of globalization new technologies help bring about do not equate to a homogenization of the world; in the contrary, it perpetuates diversity in that it allows maintain almost self-sufficient entities within the world-wide fabric of human habitat. People can still live everywhere in the world in village-like conditions, though not in villages proper, in the sense of geographically specified small settlements. People who are literate in digital and information technology do belong to the generation brought-up in a new world, and as such they distinguish themselves from past generations. How strong are the bonds between the members of this new generation, and to which extent the can counterbalance racial and social prejudices remains to be seen. The reaction of the Greek undergraduate students, who considered the refugees and migrants welcome not least on the
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