...The problem is compounded by the fact that the very definitions of presence and absence have changed; absence has become contingent; presence has become inescapable. No matter where we are, our virtual selves remain under surveillance.
Until recently, one could actually achieve absence. One could go somewhere and be gone. The traveler would send postcards. The postcards would have pictures of beaches or statues. They would be eagerly awaited and gratefully received. Absence was simple. It was an absolute condition, soon relieved by presence. Presence was also an absolute condition.
Now absence and presence are contingent and variable, matters of degree and form. A person may cease responding to e-mail and achieve a sort of absence although he or she remains in place. Or a person may go to India and yet be as present as always.
A version of us is always present. We are over-connected. We spy on each other from afar.
The quality of our absence is thus degraded. Absenceness is a precious resource we are fast running out of. Soon there will be nothing but presence. We will wish we could go away but will not be able to. The pain of constant presence will be too much for some to bear; it will be a torture like that of sleep deprivation. There will be a rash of virtual suicides, in which people disconnect themselves and appear to be dead. We will have virtual funerals for them. This will all come in time...