System Error

Elaine Kasket
7 min readOct 10, 2023

Could ChatGPT help me get to the bottom of a spooky iPhone glitch?

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Years ago, my sister was sizing up a potential love match, on a dating site that used psychological questionnaires to pair you with the perfect person. The candidate’s photo was shot from an unusual angle, and he looked vaguely familiar in a way she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She read down and under ‘pet hates’ he said he couldn’t stand food with specks, or condiments of any kind. That’s when she realised. She’d been matched with her ex-husband.

She rang me about it. ‘You’re a psychologist,’ she said. ‘The computer’s matched us. It’s, like, scientific. Did I make a mistake divorcing him?’

Of course not, I said. What can an algorithm know about love?

But that was a long time ago.

Now we’ve got big data, surveillance capitalism, technology that knows us better than we know ourselves. But I still want to believe what I told my sister. Love is unpredictable, organic, pheromonal. If a computer makes these decisions for us, where’s the magic?

I had a magical relationship once. No computers involved — we met the old-fashioned way, in a gothic-industrial club between the dungeon and the dance floor. We knew right away that our connection was miraculous, but in case we forgot it, there were signs. Uncanny things.

We played this game. One of us would think about something, and the other would guess what it was. Our hit rate was scary — a message from the universe that yes, we were meant to be. Except I didn’t listen to the universe, any more than I’d listen to an algorithm, and he never forgave me for it.

But that was a long time ago. We hadn’t spoken in a long, long while.

A few months ago I was reading a novel. At the end, a woman glimpsed her dead lover across a magic river, and I closed the book and my eyes and had a weird thought.

I wonder if he’s dead.

It was odd, this thought. I couldn’t account for why I had it. But I got on with the day, cleaned the kitchen, did some online shopping. Or I tried to — but when I scanned my credit card using my iPhone, the 16-digit number that popped up on my screen was right, but the name was wrong. Very wrong. It was wrong in a way that made me…

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Elaine Kasket

Speaker, coach, cyberpsychologist. Author of REBOOT: Reclaiming Your Life in a Tech-Obsessed World and All the Ghosts in the Machine.