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This happens every time I have to send Bitcoin somewhere - a small clock symbol opens up in the electrum wallet, and the colour slowly changes from orange to friendlier shades of green as the number of confirmations of the transaction rises from 0 to 5.

Every time, I want to go somewhere, but feel obliged to plug in the computer and leave it switched on so that the 5 confirmations can happen in peace. I worry that otherwise possibly the bitcoin may disappear into the ether and I would lose it or otherwise that maybe I would not lose it, but the transaction would cancel itself half way and the recipient would never receive it.

This is an electrum wallet (4.0.9)

What is the truth of this? Can you close the wallet and switch of the moment you've clicked 'send' or should it be allowed to sit there switched on for forty minutes or whatever it takes to collect its 5 confirmations?

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Can you close the wallet and switch [off] the moment you've clicked 'send'

Yes. Once the transaction is broadcast, the wallet has no further role in the processing of the transaction.

The exception would be, for example, if you use RBF and decide to instruct the wallet to up the fee. But this is a rare exception and isn't something a typical wallet would do without human intervention.

I worry that otherwise possibly the bitcoin may disappear into the ether ...

The bitcoin never conceptually "leave" your wallet until the transaction is confirmed.

In reality, the Bitcoins are not ever "in" any one specific wallet either. If they exist at all it is in the globally replicated transaction journal we call the blockchain. That persists even if your wallet is destroyed immediately after sending the proposed transaction.

Bitcoins are never in transit. Transactions may be.

... and I would lose it ...

No. If the transaction is never mined / confirmed, the money remains yours and can be spent later.

... or otherwise that maybe I would not lose it, but the transaction would cancel itself half way and the recipient would never receive it.

Bitcoin transactions cannot be cancelled.

The continuing activity of your wallet is not required.

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