I've been writing a lot about how so many ghost hunting tools feel very analog. So many of them seem like relics from the 1980s and 1990s, like the spirit box, which is simply a modified radio.
I think that innately, we trust these more physical, analog ways of cataloging and interacting with the paranormal. Yes, it's easier to fake a digital photograph of strange phenomena or use a Spirit Box app on your phone. But for some reason, there's a sense that it's easier for the paranormal to interact with these more physical, analog, retro forms of communication and documentation.
I struggle to put my finger on exactly what this is. After all, why do we think that a ghost, spirit, or other paranormal phenomena would have a harder time interacting with a digital device like a smartphone or a laptop, than it would with a older electronic device like a radio or a instant camera?
Shouldn't it be easier to adjust a line of code than to move something in the physical world? After all, if an entity is incorporeal, and so much of our modern technology is as well, then why wouldn't they be able to communicate with us through our smartphones, tablets, and computers just as easily—or more easily—than they might through analog media?
Thinking about this using the Ovilus
You could argue that an entity couldn't interact with modern technology in the same way that it could, say, a film camera, because it's more complex. Maybe my example of an entity interacting with digital devices on a code level is absurd. That argument is fair, but if that's the case, why would a ghost more easily interact with popular digital paranormal investigation gear, like an Ovilus?
While the Ovilus is a (sort of) recent invention, dating back to the late 2000s or so , it has the vibe of an old piece of tech. It's a purpose-built device that takes environmental readings and translates them into words (and other output, like an image ).
My understanding is that this is how the typical Ovilus works (though I assume there's some amount of variation between models): it contains a word bank of ~2,000 words. Each of those words seems to be correlated to a different EMF reading (according to this write-up, at least.) The device monitors EMF readings, then when there's a fluctuation in the amount of EMF in the area, the Ovilus outputs the word that is associated with that reading.
The Ovilus is a very cool and inventive device. I've only used one in person once, but I'd love to get the chance to again. However, there are a number of criticisms you could level at the Ovilus, and many of them are very fair. (I tend to be of the opinion that treating paranormal investigation as scientific experiments—both from an earnest POV and a debunking POV—is missing the point. But that's something for another day.)
My big question here, though, related to analog vs. digital ghost hunting question, is: How does the entity you're communicating with know what words are in the word bank and what EMF readings they're associated with?
To me, this puts the Ovilus in the same camp as something like a modern smartphone: it's a digital device that can interact with and gather data from the world around it, but it operates in a way that's is opaque to (most) humans and entities alike.
Anyone can understand the basic mechanics behind a film camera or a cassette tape—they're straightforward machines, and the operator can open it up and see the physical thing that the data is stored on (the film or magnetic tape, respectively.) So it feels plausible that it'd be straightforward for an entity to interact with. But digital ghost hunting devices that turn environmental readings into words via code and databases? Less so.
Synchronicity as a tool
I'm not saying that the Ovilus doesn't "work," I'm just saying that this piece of physical gear is likely best viewed from a synchronistic standpoint. My credulity is strained by the idea that an entity could understand what words are affiliated with each EMF reading and manipulate the EMF based on that. Like any tool, something like the Ovilus should be woven into the larger narrative of an investigation rather than have its results taken on their own.
What do I mean by that? Basically, if an investigator is using an Ovilus and gets the word "demon" and then thinks that means that they're communicating with a demon, with no other evidence to support that, then I think they're jumping to conclusions.
However, if an investigator is, say, using an Ovilus while someone else is doing the Estes Method, and both the Ovilus and the Estes session start to output the same words or variations on a theme, then that's something to pay attention to and look into.
Basically, any investigation device is probably at its best when its data is viewed as part of a larger narrative of an investigation, rather than when taken at face value.
But if a large contingency of the ghost hunting world is willing to consider the Ovilus as a potentially effective ghost hunting tool, why does it seem like there's so much more skepticism when it comes to considering the possibility that entities could communicate using modern technology? [^1]
Okay, I know I just wrote a whole blog post about that yesterday, but I mean setting aside things that are being manipulated by algorithms and "machine learning." So, yes, there are good reasons not to trust the technology that we use these days. (In addition to the ease of fakery—accidental or intentional—we now all know that our phones spy on us and track our every move.)
But there's something else afoot here. While plenty of folks (including me) do put stock in the synchronicities that show up on our computers and smartphones, I just don't think as many people people generally believe that ghosts are able to interact with those devices.
Like I said, most people don't understand how smartphones and computers work, or at least not as well as we grok radios and instant cameras. But again, why do we seem to think that incorporeal forms would have an easier time interacting with something physical then they would have interacting with something digital?
Or here's a question: are paranormal phenomena interacting with us on our digital devices, but we can't tell, since anything could be written off as a glitch or algorithmic foible? I wouldn't be shocked if that were the case. After all, isn't the digital world—cyberspace, or whatever you want to call it—potentially closer to what the spirit world might be like? Isn't cyberspace place where time and space work differently, and complex, "invisible" forces carry great sway—in a way that isn't so different from some imaginations of other realms of reality?
[^1] Not all investigators feel this way, of course! I'm always a fan of Liminal Earth's approach to the paranormal, which is to have an open mind and try to connect to weirdness in creative ways. They've even shared a way to make custom a digital spirit box using mp3s.