Belfast Telegraph

The heartbreak kid - meet Derry man doing a PhD in failed relationships

By Claire McNeilly

Have you been left heartbroken by a romance gone wrong? If so, Daniel Herron wants to hear from you.

The Northern Ireland man is obsessed with break-ups, but he has no desire to rub salt in the wounds of the afflicted.

There's a method behind this apparent madness... PhD student Daniel (29) is currently immersed in an unusual global project that involves compiling the digital memories of people whose relationships have hit the rocks.

But if that sounds like a labour of love - or, rather, loves lost - it isn't, because the Londonderry man, who married his childhood sweetheart Shauna (29) last year, has never experienced the trauma of Cupid's arrow going astray.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from Sydney, Australia, where he's currently based as part of his studies, Daniel revealed that he's been doing the unusual project "very much from an outsider's perspective".

"I've never actually had a break-up myself," he said. My wife and I have known each other since we were 12. She lived up the street from me.

"We went to the same school and we started going out when we were 16.

"She's never had a break-up either. We were always very serious about each other and our relationship."

Daniel, a researcher in the interdisciplinary Living Digital group at the University of Dundee, is exploring which digital souvenirs people keep after a break-up - and how and why they do so.

He's carrying out his research, Digital Separations, as a joint PhD student at the University of Dundee and the University of Technology, Sydney, and he expects to graduate from both universities next year.

It all began around three years ago when Daniel was sent a link to a website - the Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia. "My PhD is all about break-ups and I kept going back to the website to read stories," he said.

"I sent them an email and asked if they'd be interested in an international collaboration. They were very keen to combine efforts and since then we've been carrying out a worldwide exercise to collect these mementos."

Daniel, who has been studying and working in Dundee since his undergrad in 2008, said the people who had responded to the project had donated some unique digital souvenirs and stories - both funny and sad.

"I go and meet 95% of the people in person", he said, adding: "It's basically a PhD in gossip!"

"The new wave of social media and digital technologies has led to the emergence of a whole host of digital mementos.

"Digital photos are definitely the most popular types of souvenirs that have been donated to the collection so far, although the content varies a lot - we've had photos of exes, of pets, of places.

"There has also been a short video of ex-lovers arguing in a boat, and a collection of transcriptions of audio recordings between a donor and a series of his former partners.

"Most of the time I meet the people who contact me in person, and conduct the interview at their homes.

"I've spoken to about 30 people already and I'm trying to wrap it up in early 2019."

He added that although technology has made it easier for people to connect and has often brought them together, it can also be a downside when they no longer wanted to stay connected.

"I'm looking at ways technology could help more people after a break-up," Daniel explained.

"I wanted to look at the digital footprint they make during a relationship.

"In the context of a break-up, being so connected by digital things and so easily contactable through technology can cause a lot of difficulties.

"I expected everything to be about photos, but there are other things I didn't think of such as location data.

"One girl told me how she blocked her ex on Facebook and email, but she forgot that they had shared locations on Google, and he ended up stalking her for months after they split up."

Daniel said he's had people tell him both sad and funny stories about their relationship breakdowns.

"One participant had made a photo collage video for her boyfriend to mark their one-year anniversary, set to Ellie Goulding's How long will I Love You, and they broke up shortly afterwards," he explained.

"That was awful. The girl showed me a digital summary of their entire relationship, which meant she relived it. She had to take a break from our interview afterwards. It was her first big love and she was devastated.

"They'd met online and had a long-distance relationship, but when they moved in together she said it all started to go downhill from there."

Daniel, who's embarking on a placement with Facebook in London when he finishes his studies, hopes he'll never experience what any of his interviewees have been through.

"I'm happily married and hope to stay that way," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph