The Sunday Times column: Online we can all live for ever


After my friend died I kept her number on my phone — at first, because it felt wrong to delete it. Then, years and phones later, because it was comforting, somehow.

In the weeks after she’d gone I’d often look at our text messages. The pointless pinging back and forth all day between us of long-running jokes about people at work and stories about hopeless boyfriends, punctuated with emojis and kisses. Then I lost my phone and the messages went. But still she stayed in my contacts, so sometimes now I’ll be scrolling through and catch sight of her name. And, for a moment, forget.

My friend Will and I went to Highgate Cemetery. It was one of the first days of Spring. We weaved around gravel paths as the sun’s rays broke through branches onto Gothic ivy-covered tombs, following our guide around in the group. We walked past grand vaults where whole families lay; intricately carved 19th-century tombstones; and extravagant pseudo-Egyptian architecture, fashionable in its day. We wandered into the cool, dimly lit catacombs and followed a million student pilgrimages to Karl Marx’s grave, crowned by his giant head (surprisingly flash for a socialist).

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