by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

The lights flashed on, but she had not flicked the switch. The TV changed channels, but she had not touched the remote. There was a voice on her phone that interrupted her conversations with burps, curses, and laughter — but there was no one in her house on the other extension.

The modern-day version of a haunting was happening to Debbie Tamai and her Windsor family. Only this phantom was not some long-buried soul, but a very real, very alive, very conniving punk who calls himself “Sommy” and who thinks it’s cute to terrorize a family.

Welcome to the 21st Century nightmare.

It comes when you’re awake.

“I’m sick of it,” Tamai told me a few days ago. “I even sleep in my jogging suit now. Who knows if he’s got a camera hooked up as well?”

Anything is possible — even if it all seems impossible. “Sommy” speaks in a computer-altered voice. He makes cynical jokes. He comes across the phone lines and tells the Tamai family things they’ve said, he flashes lights and changes TV channels just to show his power. He stopped for a while, just long enough for the family to think it was rid of the problem. Then he returned, claiming he had been on vacation.

He is the tenant you cannot evict. The curtain you cannot pull down. He is a cyber boogie man, your worst nightmare in this age of decreasing privacy.

And like so many our modern techno-deviants, he seems to be one step ahead of the “experts.”

No comforts of home

“We’ve had the cable people out and the TV people out,” Tamai said, sighing. “They tried and tried. They weren’t able to find anything.”

“Sommy” has been harassing her family since January — only a few months after they bought the new home. His electronic entry must have come during construction, but even the police, as of this writing, have been rendered helpless in uncovering it. The Tamais have had their nice, new walls drilled with holes, their wires taken apart, they even had a jolt of current shot down the line in hopes of “blasting” the electronic monster into submission.

No luck. There was “Sommy,” back on line, making his snide remarks. It seems almost science fiction-like — until you realize that somewhere a twisted, cowardly creep is eating, breathing, sleeping and laughing, in between scaring this poor family out of its wits.

“This person has completely ruined our lives,” Tamai said. “We get up every morning not knowing what to expect. We have no idea why someone would want to do this to us.

“We want to move. But who would buy this house? I’m a moral person, and I would never sell it to someone without telling them what’s going on. And after I told them, I doubt they would give me two bucks for it.”

Is this what we have to show for progress? Is this what they meant when they said computers would make our lives easier?

You think about recent stories of deviant techno behavior — students stalking each other, cults leaving suicide notes, hackers stealing credit card numbers, pornographers luring children.

And now wackos like “Sommy,” probably some whiz kid, getting his kicks through electronic harassment.

It’s enough to make you yank out your phone, smash your TV and blow up your laptop.

Ghost in the machine

Of course, you shouldn’t have to do that. The telephone was supposed to bring us closer together, the television was supposed to communally entertain, the computer was supposed to speed up work so we’d have more time for the important things in life.

It sure isn’t working out that way, is it? Each of these devices seems to rule us more and more, take us over, suck the real life out of us. We become slaves to the equipment. Which eventually means — as in the Tamais’ case — we become slaves to whoever masters the equipment.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” Tamai said. “Three and a half months. The irony is, no one in my family knows anything about electronics or computers. We didn’t invite this.”

They got it just the same. It’s the age of the Pentium processor. The air is full of electronic tentacles that can steal your privacy, take your credit cards, read your messages — or spy on every move you make, just for kicks.

Funny. It used to be that the streets were dangerous and home was safe. Now, we all live on the same street, the superhighway, and the only safe place is unplugged, unwired, unhooked.

Which is starting to sound better all the time.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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