Two years ago, in the summer of 2018, my then-friend and now partner introduced me to the concept of asemic writing. If you aren't familiar with the term, it is the term given to what appears to be but is not actually writing. It is meaningless, but looks as if it is meaningful. At some point during that summer after hearing about that, I had the idea to try to find "asemic writing"-appearing things in my everyday environments and objects, and see whether the Google Translate camera translation feature could find words in them. I chose languages such as French and Chinese to translate from, and chose English as the language to translate to. The results are both amusingly absurd and, in another way, unsettling. It is as if there are messages all around us from the beyond that we cannot see. Here are the pictures I took, roughly from least to most unnerving:
As you can see, these are screenshots; the words disappeared if I tried to take a picture of them within the app. Sometimes, like in the case of the cover photo, the "align text" message is still there- that's because the text was so ephemeral, I had to rush to capture it.
You can also see the peculiar patterns of "email" and "does x" in the found words. If these are words from the beyond, shit, it sounds like Accounting from The Good Place. How mundane.
This last one is, I think, tied for the cover photo for creepiness. While it just sounds like the ghost is at a rave this time, as you can see, not only is there a ghost text, but there is a ghost face as well. There is of course no tagging feature in Google Translate; what I did was upload it to Facebook, where that algorithm detected someone who wasn't there.
But back to the words. Besides as a spooky thought experiment, there are other, more serious ways that these found words can be considered the work of ghosts. One is that the machinery I used is powered by the ghosts of people’s input and the ghosts of programmers’ biases. Messages and ideas are lost to time and frequencies rule the ghosts’ lexicon.
Another way these can be considered the work of ghosts is that what Google Translate considers to be writing, and what I consider asemic writing, is the product of the ghosts present in our writing of the people who crafted all of human script and defined what it was and wasn’t.
Finally, there is the sense in which the I who took these pictures is now a ghost, since I am not identical to who I was then. It is hard to say whether I would have come up with the idea now if I had not then.
If you would like to try finding hidden words yourself, here is how: Download Google Translate on your phone (or possibly tablet). Just as a warning, it takes up a fair amount of space. Then download language packs so that you can use the camera translation feature. Next, find something that has intricate patterns, or something that looks like writing but isn't. Use the camera within the app, and be ready and vigilant so you can take a screenshot as soon as you see words.
It might take a few tries to successfully find the right type of pattern to take a picture of. If you don't have good luck, you can always start by taking pictures of actual text sideways. You might also find it difficult to capture words you see or replicate the same words if they disappear. Try not to get too frustrated, it's just inevitable because of the method that's being used.
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Stay spooky everyone.