The Ghost in the Machine
Over the past decade movies about haunted technology have become popular. From radios to TVs and from cameras to cell phones, it seems everything can be haunted and wreak havoc on the lives of the living. This has always been one of my least favorite genres of horror movie for some reason, partially because it shows our over-attachment to our data devices, but I suppose in actuality there’s no principle difference between a haunted house and a haunted Handycam.
I never gave much thought to these kinds of “haunting” until…
Back around 2005 or so the fairer half of RevPub had a computer problem. She had an aging computer and the modem suddenly stopped working. This was back in the days when PCs were still white boxes and modems contained numbers like “28.8” and “56k.” Having recently replaced the modem in my own PC (which bucked the trend and was GRAY) I felt confident I could replace the modem in hers as well. I took the PC to my house, bought a cheap replacement modem, and installed it. Turning the computer on, I immediately got a hardware error. After going through all the options my limited computer hardware ability could handle, I called my friend Mike (an actual expert) to help.
He brought one of his computer shells to see if it was the modem, the slot, or the whole PC that was the problem. He also brought other spare parts and far more experience fixing PCs with white text on a black screen. We went through several attempts, and various options, all while watching Mythbusters on DVD. We only had one keyboard, so he plugged it into his computer, checked settings, and plugged it into the broken one to try to get the settings to work on that one. We did this several times and hit dead end, after dead end. It made me feel better that I had failed, since he was having bad luck with it too. He suddenly had a flash of inspiration, sat up, picked the keyboard up, and began typing commands. Immediately his commands began to appear on the screen of the stricken computer. As white text filled the black screen as the system began to respond. We plugged in the modem and, SURPRISE, it worked perfectly.
Mike began to disconnect the keyboard to plug into the other PC to begin to shut it down. I saw him reach to unplug it. Sit down. Stand up and look at it, then sit down again.
Perplexed and a bit freaked out. He turned to me and said, “I don’t know why that worked…” Quizzically I asked, “Why?” happy to see the work was finally done.
He still seemed pretty shaken when he responded, “The keyboard was plugged into the other PC the whole time…”
Now my logical side kicked in. Maybe he was playing a joke? No the keyboard was definitely plugged into the other PC and I hadn’t left the room. Maybe the afflicted PC had reset itself? No his DOS commands were appearing on screen.
We exchanged a “What the…” look. And the only thing that broke our silence was my announcement, “I want that thing out of my house right now.” He agreed, we packed up, I moved the possessed computer to the trunk of my car and informed the lovelier half of this company that her PC was repaired, ready to return, and was likely and object of pure evil. She took it back and used it for years…without incident.
To this day it’s one of the strangest events I’ve ever witnessed. Two relatively fearless individuals were completely creeped out by a PC that seemed to either be possessed by the machine spirit (emperor protect) or self-aware enough to fix itself. Either way I was glad to have it out of my house!
When I told Mike I would be using this story on this blog he responded in typical Mike fashion by saying:
“That sh*t freaks me out.”
For one time I will shed my stoicism and concede…yeah that sh*t freaks me out too…