Talking to Ghosts on Cell Phones
In our politically divided, socially stratified world, it is nice to know that 48% of Americans can agree on one thing: ghosts are everywhere. Floating around, seeing you when you’re sleeping, knowing when you’re awake, silently judging all the life choices you’ve made since college.
But sometimes, just knowing that they’re out there isn’t enough. What about the times when you want to reach out to ghosts, to find out what really killed them, or see if they have any good dating advice?
In the past, communicating with the beyond was a costly and time-intensive endeavor. If you opted to bypass the traditional séance route, you had to find yourself someone who studied electronic voice phenomenon (the practice of looking for hidden voices in recorded white noise), or get in with Thomas Edison, who was supposedly at work on a “spirit phone” to the afterlife around the time of his death.
But that was all before Ghost Radar — an app that claims to use the hardware of your smartphone to ‘scan’ the immediate area for ‘quantum fluctuations,’ a.k.a. GHOSTS, which are then represented as blips on a radar screen, and in single words of text. It’s like Shazam for the afterlife.
Despite the uniform revulsion that both ghost hunting pros and nearly every person I discussed it with felt for Ghost Radar, I was kind of into it. I’ve always been intrigued by the supernatural, but never had any kind of ghostly experience. Maybe this was my shot. Maybe it would be enlightening. Maybe I could get my own “Text Messages from a Ghost” going on. So I downloaded it, and took my new ghost-hunting equipment out for a spin around town.
IN A LARGE PUBLIC PARK THAT HAS CORPSES BURIED UNDER IT
My adventures began at Washington Square Park. Though the park is now full of college freshman playing “Wild World” on acoustic guitars, it was once a potter’s field, and still has thousands of bodies buried beneath its cobblestones. Walking through the park’s center, I get nothing, but when I pause in a slightly less traveled area, I see a few blips, and the word “palace.” According to the Ghost Radar website, you’re supposed to talk to it, like a little house plant that you’re encouraging to grow. “What kind of palace?” I whisper into my phone. But nothing else comes up. Eventually, I decide to go get a burrito.
IN FRONT OF CHIPOTLE
At Chipotle, the radar starts going wild, showing blips swimming around me. It spits out words, one after another: “Eager. Trail. Charles. Importance. More. Paint. Jet. Likely.” I wonder which of my two co-workers would let me run this app at their apartment, then look down and see that the screen says, “Both.” Though I do understand what chance and coincidence and apophenia are, I get a little chill.
IN A FAMOUSLY HAUNTED CHURCHYARD AND BURIAL GROUND
Emboldened by my Chipotle success, I move on to St. Marks-in-the-Bowery church. I do get a nice contact high from the high schoolers smoking a doob behind me, but there don’t seem to be any quantum fluctuations afoot.
AT A PARTY
“Are there any ghosts here?” I mutter into my phone, trying to look like I am just asking Siri if there are any good Chinese restaurants in the area. “Ice,” Ghost Radar says a few minutes later. Parties are known for their ice! This is definitely working! I demand that my boyfriend talk to the Ghost Radar. “Uh, how long have you been in this house?” he mumbles, trying to keep his friends from noticing. “Require. His. Didn’t,” says Ghost Radar. It then clams up for the rest of the night.
Later, as we head to my apartment, I make a big show of turning off the app and announcing to any interested ghosts that I don’t want to talk to them any more. “I’m not using that thing any place where I have to sleep,” I tell my boyfriend. “Yeah,” he says, “because what if your phone just started going, ‘Murder! Torture! Look! Out!”
“Stop it!” I shriek. Though I am one of many drunk girls screaming at their boyfriend on the street on Saturday night, I am the only one screaming, “Tell the ghosts that you’re sorry and that you respect them!”
I wake up in the middle of the night, and hear a voice whisper “Hello.” I ask my boyfriend, “Did you say just something?” “No,” he says. For everyone’s wellbeing, I decide I just misheard a snore.
INSIDE A DIFFERENT CHIPOTLE
If I am learning one thing, it is that GHOSTS LOVE CHIPOTLE. “Porch,” says Ghost Radar, as blips flood the screen.
AT THE NEW YORK CENTRAL PUBLIC LIBRARY
No examination of ghostly New York would be complete without a journey to this, the site of noted paranormal documentary Ghostbusters. “Information,” says Ghost Radar, as I enter the lobby. Eureka! Peter Venkman was right! “What information?” I say, casually, as if I am just having a phone conversation with my mom. Ghost Radar says “dinner,” then goes blank. I settle into a secluded area, and blips start coming from every direction on the screen. “Two,” says the Ghost Radar, “Card.” “What card?” I say. “Electricity,” says Ghost Radar. “Do you think my phone is an electric card? It is actually a telephone,” I say, loudly, perhaps a bit too loudly for a tourist-filled public area. “Cake,” says Ghost Radar. “Magnet. Stage. Poem.” And then it’s done.
AT MY JOB
“Ghost Radar,” I say, “I’ll level with you. I am a grown woman who sleeps with the lights on. I do not like screwing around with the mysterious forces of life and death. But I’m turning thirty, and I’m kind of freaked out about it, and my life just feels so stagnant sometimes… my friends have no idea what to do, my mom thinks I should just have a baby… I thought I might have a supernatural experience, and it would change me, and then I might have some answers, you know? About what I should even do with my life?” “Seat,” says Ghost Radar, which is what I am sitting in. “Afternoon,” says Ghost Radar, which is totally what time it is right now. “Spain. Without.”
“Go to Spain without what?” I shout. Is Ghost Radar about to complete a coherent thought? Is a disembodied being about to finally solve my personal problems?
“Grown. Plain. Classroom,” says Ghost Radar.
“What classroom? Which classroom?”
“North. Ancient. Price. Today. I’m. Port. Find.”
“Find what??!” I yell.
I leave it on for the rest of the day, but nothing else comes up. Ghost Radar has left the building.
If I do ever make it to that classroom on the ancient plains of northern Spain, though, I’ll make sure to send you a postcard.
Gabrielle Moss is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She ain’t afraid of no ghosts (except for the ones that tap you on the shoulder and stuff).