It's an old joke, especially at the sitcom level. The nerdy kid who no one would take to the dance suddenly invents a girlfriend, but when people start asking about her, he can't supply many details. Why? She lives in Canada, after all, and they met at summer camp and talk online. What makes this joke so resilient is that this could be the case – and in more ways than we know, it is.
It's entirely easy to meet someone from far away and regularly speak to them online. Some people have friends that they've known for years and never actually been in the same room with. But for Manti Te’o, collegiate football star for Notre Dame – as well as Heisman trophy candidate – the old joke took on a potentially dark new life, abetted by a number of online systems, including IVR.
In the grimmest of ways, this story becomes piled onto many to help contribute to what could be determined an alternate, digital reality. Consider “Catfish,” an MTV show based off of a movie documentary of the same name that exposes countless similar cases. So now that the shock is starting to subside and the scenario is being held at face value, the question now should be: How proliferate is this digital, alternative world just behind our beloved computer screens and digital devices?
The “Manti Te’o Girlfriend Scam,” as some call it, relates to Manti Te’o's relationship with a young lady named Lennay Kekua. The two spent much of their time talking online and growing closer together, occasionally meeting up in Hawaii until her recent death of leukemia, which was cited as a motivating factor behind Te’o's impressive play of late.
In fact, the play was impressive enough to draw the notice of the Heisman Trophy committee, which is highly unusual, as the Heisman commonly doesn't acknowledge defensive players so much as the offensive line. Then came the unexpected revelation that Lennay Kekua never actually existed. But, as many found themselves asking, from where did the fabrication emerge?
Was Te’o telling tales? Or was the false Kekua making up a phony image, augmented by digital “evidence” to keep Te’o's interest? Te’o and Notre Dame have released statements calling the affair a “very cruel deception,” and although these statements must be taken at face value until proven otherwise, many are reacting to the statements with visible derision.
This is part and parcel of a larger issue, which is one of the digital world around us. The dichotomy between the two were first seen in things such as the movie “The Matrix” in which we experience two worlds – one real, often called “real-time,” and one wholly digital called “online,” or where things like the Kekua affair happen.
IVR, of course, is a large part of that digital world, allowing businesses to route callers to wholly digital answer generators before eventually sending them to real-world call center agents as necessary. IVR also allows businesses to establish a somewhat simple presence at all hours of the day and night, providing information to callers even when no real-world equivalent is around.
IVR, in its own right, is little removed from Lennay Kekua. It is, by some estimations, little more than a construct, an online denizen with a specific purpose. Whether that purpose is to disclose an account balance with the cable company, tell a caller what a store's hours are or talk to a college football player, it all represents the same basic concept: an online front that accomplishes one key purpose.
The exact nature of Manti Te’o's girlfriend is still unclear, and likely won't be cleared up for some time, if ever. All things aside, this story will always prove that the online world will forever be separate from the real one, and will always have its own purposes to accomplish. The two may intertwine from time to time – whether via IVR or any other connection method – but it's still a construct in the end.
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Edited by Allison Boccamazzo