One of the questions I’m thinking about, and for which I have no answer, is whether loss, as experienced online, is something different or new. It is a question that has been recurring in my mind over the past two months. During this period I have experienced a fairly steady flow of friends leaving projects I work on, or drifting away from work they once held dear and in common with me, or ceasing to participate in various forums or deciding to not show up through particular modes of communication. It’s something natural: people move on.
The question of loss online is tied up with the question of being online. The loss of a friend in the-real-world is most often experienced as a loss of presence: she was, and is not; it is not possible to be together any more. The presence of a friend online is different. This presence is mediated in time much more explicitly than the friend I meet for coffee. Real-time, although a favourite term of much modern communication technology, is a myth. I am always dealing with what you said, and never what you are saying. The present, at least online, is the experience of the past now.
The question of loss online also preoccupies me because of the length of time I’ve spent with some of my friends online–a decade in some cases. Also, and because of the nature of technology, the forms of mediation during such a protracted relationship mean that the existence of the friend online becomes detached from a particular medium. They reveal themselves through multiple media, and therefore make explicit their existence outside any one medium.
But where are they? I should point out that the question of presence generally is far from settled, and I’m leaning on it as though it were solid. I recognize that all presence is mediated. However, I’ve experienced loss in-real-life, and now loss online, and they are turning out to be different, not least in my ability to grieve such loss appropriately. This is a question that will continue to ask me for thought, since my experiences of loss online are only going to increase.