At first I thought of how the world of work has changed – emails, web projects, digital marketing, but I quickly realised this isn’t the most profound difference in my life as a result of ‘digital’. I've been a ‘digital professional’ since before ‘digital’ was even a thing. It’s become second nature. I started this ‘digital’ career so long ago, it's just been my career – not really so profound. People may ‘get it’ more now, but it's still just part of what I do.
My life without 'digital'
20 years ago marks a personal milestone for me. 20 years ago I ran away from home, and when I say ran away – I left the country. I put an ocean between myself and home, literally. I was 16 and flew from Calgary, Canada, to Newcastle, England with a view to staying for a year and then see what happens. Somehow ‘what happened’ has been moving to Scotland, studying, working, getting married, buying a home, having a baby and starting a business. I think I've run away for good.
I left my immediate family and my high school friends – and I wrote them letters, and ran up huge phone bills. I got in trouble for the phone bills, so I used to go to the phone box and chuck change in the BT phone to get a few more minutes of long distance to my best friend. We used to make scrap books together, of photos and letters and ridiculous things we'd made and stick cut-out magazine pictures to the pages, writing ludicrous statements over the top of them. I remember breaking up with my first boyfriend and pouring my heart into a letter to my friend, literally miles away. I had it weighed and air-miled up and sent away for her to get weeks later, by which point I'm sure my broken heart was mended – a few tequila sunrises and a drunken sob did the trick.
I didn't have a mobile phone, an email address, or a SIM card. There was no website to find friends, to make your instant scrapbooks. No Snapchat to write ludicrous statements on photos, not even Friends Reunited to put us back in touch.
My life post-transformation
Now 20 years on, my 2-year-old son can use Skype. That in itself isn't so profound. What is profound is that the mother I left in Canada is now Nana, and my son knows her. My mum has come to visit us three times since he was born, at just weeks old, at 9 months old and at 18 months old. But if you ask my son who loves him, he says ‘my Nana’. He had dinner with her tonight, and she laughed as he spooned gravy into his mouth and he cried because we wouldn't let him eat straight from the gravy jug. They share moments like that. That’s incredible – a digital dinnertime across that ocean.
My son knows his auntie in Australia, and her partner and her new dog's name. He knows how to hang up on them when storytime is done and he’s had enough of Intercontinental Dr. Seuss. He’s 2.
Those friends I used to write to, I’m still friends with. They’ve watched my journey through life, digitally. They knew as soon as everyone else when my son was born. They’re watching him grow up. I know people think social media has made us less social, less likely to talk and all that real human contact. I disagree – the internet and social media has brought us closer, closed time gaps and kept us all in touch.
So how has ‘digital’ changed the world in the last 20 years? It has brought us closer together, made interactions quicker, contact cheaper, life a lot more instant. My son knows his family – oceans away. That's what I'd call a transformation.