Bex Lewis gives us a wonderfully varied look at home, reflecting the mobile nature of our society today. I love her reflections. And I love that I don’t really know where I first met her, because we were online friends before we met in person. But there’s not a difference in our engaging, whether online or in person, which is a point she embodies. She sees the positive points of online life and also, in her book Raising Children in a Digital Age, helps adults think critically.
So, currently I’m on a train from Winchester back to Manchester, places that have very different notions of ‘home’ for me – a place with a deep sense of belonging, and a place full of the adventures of a new life. The immediate thought goes to geography – as a ‘Southern Softie’ who grew up on the south coast of England, twenty minutes above Brighton, I have spent an unexpected amount of time ‘north of Watford’ in the last decade!
‘Home is where you put your hat’ is the famous saying, but for me, there are different kinds of home, and it’s not all about geographical location. In Sussex, where I grew up, one of my oldest friends is still there and there are flashes of memory when I return, but my parents have left. They now live somewhere that I wouldn’t refer to as ‘home’ because I didn’t grow up there, although it’s lovely to see my parents, and go somewhere quiet for ‘time out’. Each new home has offered new adventures, new possibilities, and some sadnesses as things are left behind.
Winchester was the first place I got to experience living independently, and is somewhere that I have lived on and off since 1994, and most of my longest and deepest friendships originated there. Durham offered the first opportunity to buy my own home – and I was very keen to make the house a home, with the paintbrushes, the comfortable (if second-hand) furniture, getting to know my neighbours, and offering a hospitable welcome to friends. When I was faced with redundancy from that role, I knew I didn’t want to stay, and sat down with a friend to consider where I might want my new home to be – as home is so much more than a place to live and work – both Winchester and Manchester were on the list – one a lot more affordable than the other in terms of being able to afford my own home. Thankfully, the right opportunity came up in Manchester, and I have now called that city ‘home’ since September (despite actually officially living in Stockport, but, you know, it’s part of ‘greater Manchester’!). There is a running joke amongst my family and friends that they have to put my address in in pencil, because I’ve moved so often over the last twenty years … but hopefully this time is going to be for a good few years!
In my PhD I used Benedict Anderson’s notion of an ‘imagined community’. In the Second World War the British people were fighting together for the imagined community of their nation:
It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, of even hear of them, yet in the minds of Anderson questions what ‘makes people love and die for nations, as well as hate and kill in their name’.
I’ve always been fascinated about what gives people a sense of identity, a sense of belonging, and within that, what makes people feel ‘at home’. Dictionary.com has an interesting range of definitions for ‘home’: a house, apartment, or other shelter that is the usual residence of a person, family, or household; the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered; an institution for the homeless, sick, etc.: a nursing home; the dwelling place or retreat of an animal; the place or region where something is native or most common; any place of residence or refuge: a heavenly home; a person’s native place or own country; (in games) the destination or goal; a principal base of operations or activities: The new stadium will be the home of the local football team.
I am fascinated that these definition include the use ‘a heavenly home’ as an example, which reminds me of 2 Corinthians 5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands, something that I heard at a Billy Graham event at which I made my own ‘personal decision’ that I wanted to live in one of the heavenly mansions, though now it appears to be more about having a heavenly body – without the trials and tribulations of our human bodies.
Meantime, whilst living on earth, I have found it important to seek to be part of the local community – starting with getting to know my neighbours well (I posted a photo/brief personal bio through each of their doors as I started moving in). Those who know me will not be surprised to heard that I also consider my ‘digital community’ to be key, and that this a place I certainly feel very at home. Facebook in particular has allowed re-connection with old friends and re-participation in their lives, whilst getting to know new friends (often before meeting them in person). Social media has helped me with all of my big moves, including private Facebook groups for those in the area for practical queries, and those who care and want to pray for those decisions being made, and Twitter which allows a quick build-up of new personal and professional networks around interest-areas, and Freecycle to get rid of (and occasionally collect) stuff as I decluttered over my three years in Durham!
In writing Raising Children in a Digital Age, particularly whilst writing about bullying, it became clear that many see ‘home’ as a place of safety, one that was challenged by the global nature of digital technology. No longer could one ‘shut the door’ and shut the world out (could we ever truly do this), and we could live our ‘private’ lives as we wanted (have our lives ever truly been private – if we look back in history, it’s only for around 200 years that this has been an expectation). New technology is challenging our understanding of participation in life – and with the media focusing on so many of the negative aspects, it can be hard to remember the positive aspects – the opportunities to connect, to maintain relationships, and to use the opportunities provided for positive, rather than negative, purposes.
For me, home is where relationships are, whether that is offline or online, places that I can feel comfortable to ‘put my feet up’, whether that is literally, or in a place – such as church housegroups – where one can open up and share lives with others. Let’s make them spaces where people feel welcome, where they feel comfortable – and if you’re in my house – comfortable enough to make your own tea-and-coffee, as I don’t drink them and typically forget to offer them!
Tonight I’ll be back under my own roof, in the house that I am seeking to turn into a home – using the colours that I love, displaying objects that have associated memories, a place I can be hospitable … and where tomorrow I’ll be able to put my feet up on the new sofa!
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has 19+ years of experience. Trained as a mass communications historian, writing the original history of Keep Calm and Carry On, she is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, and how this affects the third sector, especially faith organisations, voluntary organisations, and government behavioural campaigns. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and is author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’ (Lion Hudson, 2014), which has been featured on The One Show, BBC News, Steve Wright in the Afternoon, and in the Daily Telegraph, The Church Times, and in many other publications.
 Anderson, B., Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, 1991, p.6 (emphasis in the original)