The Millions

Why Do Found Texts Fascinate Us So Much?

1. Ghosts

A few years ago, on a hike in central Oregon, my niece found this scrap of paper alongside the trail. It reads: “ghosts are people who’s spirits haunt the place they died. Ghosts can be both good and bad. It is posibowl to walk thrugh a ghost.”

Later, while we were trying to get our various daughters to bed, I pocketed the note. I figured it was most likely for me, for my purposes. It was sent to me.

Please understand: Ghosts are mysterious. But nothing in this message is particularly new to anyone familiar with such spirits. These sentences simply list some characteristics of ghosts. What is haunting, here, is what is unknown—who wrote this note, and why, and to whom? Is the “posibowlity” of walking “thrugh” a ghost meant to be reassuring or provocative? Are these words reacting to a specific situation, or are they meant as part of a more general definition?

Herein lies one fascination of a found text: its disconnectedness. We don’t tend to know the writer, nor the intended recipient, nor the intention. The text comes from nowhere and finds us as much as we find it. It

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