When the ghost of my Great Grandfather materialized in my room one night, something told me he wanted to know what Snapchat was and that something was him asking me. At first, I was terrified because I'd never seen a ghost and never met my Great Grandfather, but I was also relieved because he still had a full head of ghost hair.
“I've been watching over you for a while, usually, to be honest, when there's no fair, nubile dame to peep on, but I had to appear before you now because I simply do not understand this device you stare at all day.” His boney hand pointed to my phone. I looked at it, thinking about how this was really going to screw up my sleep monitoring app.
“That's my phone,” I said.
“Don't be preposterous. That resembles nothing of a telephone, and I should know, I once lost a beloved terrier to Alexander Graham Bell in an ill-advised wager. Where is the receiver? The switchboard? Where do you place your ear?”
I turned on my phone and showed him all the features. He remained incredulous.
“But in all my time watching you, I have never seen you make a call on this.”
I checked my call log and it was true, most of the calls were both received and unanswered: spam, spam from New Guinea, Uber driver on the wrong side of the street (x4), and Mom (x6).
“So if you don't talk to people on this phone, what do you do on it?”
I showed him the sleep app he was ruining, the alarm clock that was hours from going off, oddly enough he was most impressed with the calculator, or as he called it, a “black-magic abacus.” But the real answer to his question was social media.
Instagram was somewhat easy to explain.
“You post photos or videos from your life and others like them, comment on them, and be both very jealous and very saddened by your life.”
He looked behind my phone, “I see no photos here. And I should know what a photograph looks like, I once French-kissed Ansel Adams after a shared bottle of Sazerac.”
I demonstrated scrolling through the photos: “You check to make sure certain people—your ex—have liked them, and are surprised when other people—your optometrist—have also liked them.”
“We used to call these photo albums, and we shared them only with loved ones or visiting soldiers,” he replied.
I told him about Snapchat.
“It is similar but fleeting because the photos disappear after a little time. There are also lots of filters you can add to your face so you look like a bunny, a cat, or like someone with a 401k.”
“That sounds like heresy! And I should know, I was accused of heresy in over fourteen states and certain provinces in Canada.”
I tried to show him LinkedIn but he kept falling asleep.
Facebook, I explained, was a tool for keeping tabs on the lives of people we hated in high school. I told him about how it collects our data, and uses it to sell us ads for shared workspaces. I paraphrased articles I pretended to read about Facebook's interference in the election.
“So you do not use this Facebook. This evil thing.”
“But see the thing is I really need it to remember birthdays.”
My great-grandfather's ghost looked even paler than his usual translucent self. He furrowed his brow in thought before speaking, “So that device that you call a phone and yet don't use as such, this is where you are social? This is where you interact with strangers and loved ones? Not at the local postal office, an artist salon, or even Dynamite Ginger's Good Time Brothel?”
I nodded and smiled—-he gets it! But I was a little annoyed, because he could have just Googled all this.
“This behavior is worrying, and utterly perplexing. I am afraid I may never understand this, and yet I should; Sigmund Freud once accused me of cheating during a free-association exercise.”
It's true I was having a hard time communicating with the ghost of my great-grandfather, who I was beginning to think was sort of an asshole. I thought a selfie might help us connect, but in my sleep-deprived haze I forget to turn off the flash. When the light went off he shrieked before vanishing into thin air.
At first, I was disappointed and felt I had missed what could have been a meaningful opportunity. But then I realized the photo actually turned out! I captioned the pic “Damn #ghosted by my own Great Grandpa!” and it's at 89 likes and counting.