Harriet Walker: Missing people is a lucrative industry

 

Share
Related Topics

It's a rare feeling nowadays actually to miss someone. How can you, when the world is so hyper-engaged and perennially in touch? How can you ever really feel the absence of a person when they're there in your phone, a photo message away, or tweeting their exact movements? Looking at their Facebook profile makes up for not looking at their face; their eyes meet yours over Google searches, if not the breakfast table.

My boyfriend has been away for a month, woe is me. That might not sound like very long (if you're over 50) or it might sound like eons (if you're under 15). Personally, I've found it somewhere in the middle. It's 30 days of getting on with things, treading water and keeping busy. But then again, it's just 30 days like any other. It's 30 days of washing your hair, having a drink and eating a sandwich. He's back soon, after all.

But the business of missing people is a lucrative industry – and I'm not just talking blow-up dolls and boyfriend-shaped pillows (they're Japanese, obviously, and have a bolsterish arm that you can snuggle into. And no, I haven't gone out and bought one.)

Our interconnectivity and constancy has come about because the internet has been, in part, a project to make sure we never feel like we're on our own. Whether the US government admits it or not, it invented a thing to make every saddo in the universe feel less of a saddo.

You didn't think all these internet substitutes are about anything other than allaying the aching void in one's life, did you? Social networking is not so much about meeting new and interesting people as keeping tabs on the interesting people you already know. And helping you feel, in this giant, souped-up and over-connected world where everyone knows you from Twitter before you've even met them, that you matter – maybe even that you are missed. It's knowing that someone else is always awake in the middle of the night when you are. While our earthbound forebears knew that but couldn't act on it, for us that trans-ocean, trans-temporal companionship is only ever a chatroom away.

Sociable loneliness is a modern affliction, and by that I mean the sensation of being utterly on your own, even as you scroll through up-to-the-minute lists of pensées and witticisms from 900 of your closest friends on your iPhone. But loneliness is not the same as missing someone. Missing someone is having something happen to you, wanting to tell that thing to the person you most want to hear it, and then remembering they aren't there to tell it to.

Missing someone is – and it's depressing, this – seeing something on Twitter that they might find funny and then attempting to tweet it to them, before remembering (shock!) that they are offline and that's why you're missing them. *Throws phone across room and has a little cry*

But the most worrying thing about how difficult it is really to feel the lack of a person these days is what that might be doing to our emotional spectrum, to culture. Being as plugged in as we are, our latterday brand of touch-type telepathy will render us as reactive, heart-strings-wise, as a goldfish that forgets who or what it is missing the second it remembers it's missing something but can't remember who or what it is.

How would troubadours work their lyrical magic these days without the breathing space to adore their ladies fair from afar? Would they stand at castle walls (OK, the electric gates of yuppie high-rises) and serenade them? Or would them just join FourSquare, announce on Twitter that they'd taken up their post and wait for the lady fair in question to buzz them in?

What would Emily Dickinson do – with all her Arbitrary capitals and breathy – Dashes? Would she have sequestered herself inside, writing inscrutable almost-love notes to an object of affection whose identity has never been revealed? Or would she just have clicked "busy" on G-chat and attempted to lure the object in that way? Would she have Skyped whoever-it-was and told them she was getting A Bit Bored – of it all – ?

How do you really miss someone when the furthest they ever really are from you is when you accidentally leave your phone in your handbag in the other room?

It's when those go-to techy stand-ins fail you, that's how. It's waking up and checking your emails, your Twitter, your Facebook – hell, even your doormat – and finding nothing there. It's patting the empty bum-print in the sofa next to you thoughtfully and carrying on watching telly with a sad little sigh.

Like I said, he's back soon. I'm already anxious that the very technology that has kept him not too far away, even though he's on a different continent, will lash out viciously upon his return and, rather than yielding precious contact, will instead mean endless slideshows and interminable holiday snaps of people I will never meet.

Maybe, just maybe, I'll end up missing the time I spent missing him.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administrator - London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administra...

Recruitment Genius: .NET Web Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity for a t...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£14616 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading specialist in Electronic Ci...

Recruitment Genius: Pre-Press / Mac Operator / Artworker - Digital & Litho Print

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: With year on year growth and a reputation for ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would hasten the process of devolution to the major city regions

Charles Handy
 

FIFA awarded the World Cup to a state where slavery is actively facilitated

Aidan McQuade
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003