Ghosts are everywhere in this social media world
There's the ghost of your ex—friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, husband—who occasionally pops up on a friend's photo, liking it, commenting on it, reminding you with a thud that they still exist, they haven't just vanished from the world because you stopped connecting.
There's the ghost you do sometimes at parties, “ghosting”, “the Irish exit”, where you gauge the room and leave silently, without saying goodbye to anyone, just so you can skip the whole “oh why are you leaving?" "Have another drink” rigmarole. The next day, you sometimes appear in the background of someone's selfie, you were there one moment and the next, you weren't.
There's the ghost of the three typing dots after you've said something and the other person is trying to respond.
So-and-so is typing...
And then, just as if you imagined it, the three dots go away and you're left just looking at your own message, a blue arrow next to it showing that the other person has seen it and didn't respond - a one-sided conversational ghost.
The double blue tick on Whatsapp you can disable, so no one can see if you've read their messages. Although how do you disable your “last seen on” status right next to your name? The message was sent at 7.23, you were last online at 7.28, and you haven't said a word.
Some people will brazen it out. “Helloooo,” they will type, “R u there? Did u see this?”
You usually respond after that, you say, “Hey.” With a full stop, so that there's no room for brevity. Full stop indicates you're in a serious sort of mood. “Hey!” means, “I'm sorry I didn't have time to message you earlier, or I did, and I forgot.” “Heyyyy....” means “I've got words to type that you won't like.” Ghosts lie in between your punctuation, they lurk in the emoji, so useful to distance yourself from a conversation, or put an end to it, when you've run out of things to say.
There are more obvious ghosts, too; a memory feature on your Facebook or on a separate app, which throws up five, ten, eleven years ago. As long as you've been online and hooked up. You look at your concerns back then, you rediscover songs you used to love and posted lyrics, you watch your younger self fling an arm around someone you thought you'd be friends with forever. That ordinary Saturday night, how were you to know that in the future this person would be faded away, that you'd have to pinch the edges of your brain to recall what you spoke about, how were you to know that the sound of their voice would no longer be familiar?
In some cases, in the good cases, the ghosts come back to life again. “Oh,” you think, after a friend writes you an email after a long absence, after you run into someone at a market and you get chatting, “This is why I was friends with this person!” And you reconnect, and just like that, you slide into each other's lives again as though you were never missing in the first place. Hello again.
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of five books, most recently a YA novel about divorce called Split and a collection of short stories about love called Before, And Then After. The views expressed here are her own.