The ghost in the machine

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
November 18, 2010 /

Click here to view original /

Rumour has it that there are people who “get over” things. Loss, agony, change, apparently we shall overcome. Me? Nah, not so convinced.

Daimaru shopping bags were a distinct – and thoroughly lovely – shade of green. The Melbourne store closed in 2002; the colour still chokes me up. I do not move on easily; the self-help section at Borders gets a very wide berth.

So, given my strong reluctance to snap out of things, given my belief that gainful existence can include melancholy and masochism, US company Intellitar quite possibly could be the gift that keeps on giving.

So, you’re gonna die. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but the sand will inevitably reach the bottom of the hourglass. So, along with detailing bequests to the Salvos and organising your funeral playlist, with the help of Intellitar, death preparation can now also include filming reels of footage. You spinning yarns about the time you caught a marlin this big, you answering all those pressing Beatles v Stones/Richard Branson wanker-rating-out-of-10 questions, you showcasing all the very best of your wily charms. And then – through the magic of Christmas/capitalism/science – Intellitar will turn you into an avatar.

Now I’m not what you’d call a computer person. Last week the guy at the repair place pronounced the death of my laptop’s mothership. It sounded bad, it sounded expensive, it sounded big time uninteresting. So I don’t approach Intellitar as an fascinating tech story, rather, a enthralling social one.

A visit to Intellitar’s website and you can “talk” to the company’s brainchild, Don Davidson. Or at least to his avatar. As someone who rarely shies from carbs, my first question was whether he liked potatoes. Don blinked convincingly, smiled affably and stared at me with his piercing blue eyes and said, “I do not know that about me yet.” So he lost me at potatoes.

I went to high school in the 90s. In a world predating online paedophiles and cyber pimps, angsty adolescents bared their soul to a computer program called ELIZA. There, on the oh-so-enormous screens of our Apple Classic IIs the text “Hi, my name is Eliza, please tell me your problem” appeared, sparking a faux counselling exchange. Phrases trigged by keywords would be spat out and what may have seemed “real” for the first two questions rapidly led to anger, frustration and ultimately kindled an interest in emo bands.

My first “conversation” with Avatar Don was eerily similar. Kinda like the end of a relationship when he stops bringing flowers and you don’t talk anymore, interactions with Don were exasperating. Regrettably, my last word to him was a “weirdo” slur to which he, like several men before him, responded, “Come on, be more specific, Lauren.”

Delving further into the Intellitar story and I came across an interview real Don did with CBS. His mother’s death apparently motivated him: “I’d give anything to be able to go in and just hear her say the five or ten things that I remember her saying.” Ah, orchestrated communication with the dead. And it started to make sense.

Call me a cynic – everyone else does – but I tend to think the audience for psychics is slightly skewed. Skewed towards people needing to be told that things will get better. And particularly for those in John Edward’s audience, clutching their sacred mementoes and hoping for a “cross over”, they don’t want to hear about potatoes. It doesn’t matter that their avatar doesn’t know which carbs they like best, they just want to hear everything is okay. They want to be told they were loved, that they were the favourite, that they are desperately missed.

Whether it’s because I’m a writer or just a tad insane, I tend to have more conversations with people in my head than in real life. Following similar lines, to fall asleep I usually eschew sheep counting for rewriting conversations I messed up. Here is where the beauty of Intellitar lies: manipulating history, spotlighting the sparkly bits and playing you a loop of just how loved you were.

Delusion in fact, is something I’m marvellous at. Particularly when it comes to intimate relationships. The fight may have been thoroughly ghastly, complete with teeth clenching, inside-of-cheek-biting and quivering lips. Then, somewhere around the 16-hour mark, it’ll stop hurting. I’ll recall a phrase, a smile, their pronunciation of my name and not only will there be forgiveness but pining. Delusion. The choice to only remember the good bits.

Nobody‘s going to use Intellitar to find out whether long-dead grandma was a racist, or whether great uncle Nigel was a homophobe. Nup. We just want the sepia-toned stories, the pull-my-finger gags, the and-I-loved-you-most-of-all bald-faced lies. Intellitar animates the tales, makes it look real … at least real enough, and peddles it for upwards of $5.95 per month. In my case, I can tap into emotional instability unaided, but I certainly see the Intellitar appeal.

© Lauren Rosewarne