Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 1: Ghosts in the Machine

Image Source: Sims 3 via Elemental Legacy.

Happy Hallowe'en!  This is the (gasp) end to the Hallowe'en Blogathon Countdown, in which I've pondered how skepticism and the paranormal contend with one another and sometimes converge.  I thought I would wrap up with the most frightening prospect of all in a plugged-in world.  Worse than the monster in your closet!  Worse than the howling wind outside!  Worse than only getting apples in your bag of treats!  This is the prospect that out there, somewhere on the Internet, there is a haunted Website. I don't mean a site about haunted stuff, of which there are thousands upon thousands.  No.  I mean a site that channels a malevolent paranormal presence, out there in cyberspace.
The idea that the spirit world can invade our tech tools is horrific because it merges the objects of our fears with the products of our rational minds. Films that have toyed with the notion that tech devices can serve as conduits for evil spirits range from Poltergeist (1982) to Chain Letter (2010). Back in 1998, the terrifying Japanese horror flick Ringu directed by Hideo Nakata and based on the 1991 book by Kōji Suzuki, cleverly combined urban legends about chain letters with fears of spirits inhabiting technological artifacts, in this case, a nexus between telephones and a haunted VCR tape (see my blog post on this film, which includes clips, here).

There is a recent report of haunted cell phones at Phantoms and Monsters. There are lots of videos on Youtube of cell phones acting strangely, see here and here. And there are even more videos of ghosts supposedly speaking through mobiles and regular telephones; or rather, it's satellite garble that sure sounds like ghosts: here, here, here, here, here and here.  The 2002 South Korean movie, Phone, concerned a possessed mobile. The 2004 Japanese horror movie One Missed Call, spawned two sequels (here and here) and a 2008 English remake.

There are a few sites that integrate the Web browsing experience with fear in an interactive, new way. For example, if you want to see a truly frightening, jump-out-of-your-seat creepy Japanese webtoon, go to this site and simply scroll down through the images (it worked until recently, then was slow to load at the time of writing this post). And yes, there are online Ouija boards, as here.

The Internet is, of course, filled with the online presences of deceased people, their blogs, their Facebook profiles, their now-still Twitter feeds.  See my post on that with reference to the inspiring author and blogger, Mac Tonnies, here.

On Hallowe'en 2008, Dvice had an article about the haunted Internet, noting: "As far back as 2000, religious leaders warned us of the evils of the PC, claiming that your hard drive had storage capacity enough to house demons—one Georgian preacher reported being openly mocked by a PC-dwelling spirit. ... [Y]ears later, the explosion of hate sites, terrorist how-tos, and posting boards for suicide seekers demonstrates that the devil isn't in the details— he's on the Web." 

More on this here, with a strange overlap between 'artificial intelligence' and old-fashioned, Exorcist-styled demonology:
The minister said he probed one such case, actually logging onto the parishioner's computer himself. To his horror, an artificial-intelligence program started spontaneously. "The program began talking directly to me, openly mocked me," he recalls. "It typed out, 'Preacher, you are a weakling and your God is a damn liar.'" Then the device went haywire and started printing out what looked like gobbledygook. "I later had an expert in dead languages examine the text," the minister said. "It turned out to be a stream of obscenities written in a 2,800-year-old Mesopotamian dialect!" The minister estimates that one in ten computers in America now hosts some type of evil spirit. The Reverend advises anyone suspecting that their computer is possessed to consult a clergyman, or, if the computer is still under warranty, to take it in for servicing. "Technicians can replace the hard drive and reinstall the software, getting rid of the wicked spirit permanently," he says.
The preacher, Reverend Jim Peasboro, councils believers on how to perform 'cyber-exorcisms.' The report on Peasboro has been sharply criticized here.

There is a site, Cyber Exorcism, devoted to dealing with cyber demons (and not the variety from the Doom videogame franchise).  It has posts on possessed iPhones and an evil telephone number in Bulgaria, which if you dial it, leaves you mortally ill.  There are even DIY tips on how to apply the methods for exorcising demons from humans to your possessed PC, although it's not clear how sprinkling the computer with holy water won't damage it. The site hasn't been updated since 2010.

This kind of story contributes to urban legends about possessed sites that channel entities from the other world - that can somehow haunt you or your machine if you surf to them.  I searched in vain for a site with that reputation, but I don't think it would be the kind of thing that would come up in your average Google search. And I wasn't too eager to sail into completely uncharted Web waters just for the blog.

The evangelical theory that the devil or demons actually live on the Web was seemingly confirmed by an Internet rumour about Hebrew numerology.  The rumour is that the Hebrew letter Vav, translated as W, has the numerological value of 6, and hence www, the sign of the Internet, is also the sign of the Beast, 666. A site on the basics of Judaism disputes this:
I have received several e-mails pointing out that the numerical value of Vav (often transliterated as W) is 6, and therefore WWW has the numerical value of 666! The Internet, they say, is the number of the beast! It's an amusing notion, but Hebrew numbers just don't work that way. In Hebrew numerals, the position of the letter/digit is irrelevant; the letters are simply added up to determine the value. To say that Vav-Vav-Vav is six hundred and sixty-six would be like saying that the Roman numeral III is one hundred and eleven. The numerical value of Vav-Vav-Vav in Hebrew would be 6+6+6=18, so WWW is equivalent to life! (It is also worth noting that the significance of the number 666 is a part of Christian numerology, and has no basis that I know of in Jewish thought).
Another site cites the Book of Revelation 13:15-18, the source for the 666 legend, and questions its numerological meaning in relation to the Internet more precisely.  The number was also associated with barcodes in the script of the movie Naked (1993).

In addition to the never-ending fear of viruses, when you leave your computer idle, malware can make it do strange things: "Upon clicking into your browser's history, you discover that your PC was surfing during the night — by itself! Worse still, it spammed your entire contact list." There's a site here with a 1996 manifesto for 'Cyberdemons' that looks like an early WikiLeaks or Anonymous prototype.

One unnerving prospect is that the camera on your computer can be hacked, making your computer a two-way window on the world: "Ever get the feeling you're being watched? Or that, God forbid, the baby cam is tracking your child's every move? Forget hungry rats in the crib; pervy hackers on the Net is a far scarier concept. ... Alas, the potential for remote access to your webcam is not so remote, after all: [in 2008] Adobe ... informed its Flash player users that visiting a malicious site could grant a 'clickjacker' access to their webcam and microphone."

The scariest potential phenomenon, according to Dvice, is the possibility that the Internet may become sentient, and possibly an insane form of artificial intelligence.  In a way, that would be worse than cyberspace being possessed by evil spirits, the devil or demons, who are kind of Old School.  But demons as artificial intelligence entities, now that would be a true Millennial monster mash-up. Just remember, there's always a way out the Little House of Internet Horrors ---> here (I wouldn't click there if I were you ...).

Image Source: GameBlog.
See all my posts on Horror themes.
See all my posts on Ghosts.

If you're not reading this post on Histories of Things to Come, the content has been scraped and republished without the original author's permission. Please let me know by following this link and leaving me a comment. Thank you.


  1. I was totally gonna make the Hostile AI comparison until you covered it.

    Just how would you sail the uncharted waters of the web anyway, start entering URLs at random? -J

  2. A few years ago, a guy I knew gave me a link to a Balkan-based site that listed URLs for sites that were trying to stay off the grid while staying on the grid. Their Web addresses constantly changed, had mirror sites, etc. It was pre-WikiLeaks intrigue. Anyway, I bought a new computer and lost my favourites and never found that site again. You know how occasionally these days you can surf too far into the Web and get to some pretty strange sites? This was beyond that, the Web Underground.