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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project and Quality Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is an independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Executive - OTE £20,625

£14625 - £20625 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role is for an enthusiasti...

Guru Careers: Financial Controller

£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

Recruitment Genius: Fertility Nurse

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join the ho...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Walt Palmer (left), from Minnesota, who killed Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion  

Walter Palmer killed Cecil the Lion with a bow to show off – and now he's discovering what it's like to be hunted

Louis Theroux
English fashion model Cara Delevingne (C) sticks her tongue out as she poses for pictures with award presenter Poppy Delevigne (L) and Joan Smalls after she won 'Model of the Year' award during the British Fashion Awards 2014 in London  

Cara Delevingne's 'car crash' TV appearance says more about her interviewers than her

Cassie Davies
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash