Forms of Fright – A Very Modern Ghost Story


Scary Stories Session 12 Forms of Fright looks at our enduring fascination with ghosts and ghost stories. And, while once these were things of horror, today we actively seek out the traditional ghosts of yore. We enjoy ghost tours and search out mediums for help in contacting the deceased. Ghosts are not the scary story they once were; they are comforting, quaint and most certainly far removed from the modern world we live in.

Modern ghosts are much more likely to be synonymous with a new form of social torture we visit upon each other. As if navigating the world of meaningful connections in our contemporary culture wasn’t hard enough, we must now contend with ghosts of our own making. Those people who are all too real, but like the girl in the backseat, disappear from our lives with no explanation. And these ghosts, unlike those from folklore, cause much greater distress to the lives of those they leave in their wake.

While humans live disparate globalised lives, separated from families and friends often by thousands of miles, we are in many ways more connected than ever. We have access to every day of each others lives through social media and can connect at the touch of a few buttons. And this is the exact reason why people are so thrown, when someone with whom they have formed a bond, however tentative, vanishes. People ghost each other without warning after weeks, months, sometimes even years because apparently humans have an innate capability to turn any technological advancement into something with which to visit mundane cruelties on others.

We don’t actually need ethereal apparitions to cause us distress, humans manage to do that quite well to each other. And unlike their 19th century counterparts, the disappearing acts of these modern ghosts can cause real pain. Humans are by their very biology, social creatures. And our social bonds, being vital to our survival at one point, have become integral to the ways in which we perceive ourselves. Staying connected to other humans is in fact so important in nature, that our brains have evolved to have an inbuilt social monitoring system. This system essentially scans our environment for cues so that we know how to respond in social situations. If we make the wrong move, we will pick up on the verbal and non-verbal cues of those around us and we adjust our behaviour accordingly.

The problem with these new hauntings is that they deprive their unsuspecting victims of such social cues and therefore cause an emotional irregularity. Our brains are designed to then seek reasons; and so it will substitute the, often banal, reason for any end to a relationship, with a deeper more personal failing. And that social rejection causes real physical pain, so real in fact that it can indeed be relieved by synthetic opioids such as painkillers.

As humans have grown and developed and drastically broken social bonds, where communities have now been splintered and interaction is done through our computers, our worst most cowardly sides have triumphed. Because there are no real consequences for treating others with such petty indifference. We disappear from each others lives when we wish to dispose of a relationship simply because we can. But as with the vanishing hitchhiker, there is always an emotional price to pay, whether we choose to admit it or not.

Verity ClaytonComment