Memo pads. Post-it notes. Emails. Letters. Written messages permeate our daily interactions, between me and you, you and him, him and her, her and me. They may be as brief as a grocery list or a request to remember to take out the trash, punctuated with bullet points and exclamation marks on the fly. On the other hand, a note may be lengthy and thoughtful, scattered with words you’ve read or wrote, but have never heard in an actual conversation. Messages are scribbled or typed with a distinctive style and a particular word choice that gives away the author’s identity, intentionally or not, the same way the intimate inflections in a person’s voice can alert you to his or her presence in a room before you’ve even entered.
Most of the time, a written message has a designated recipient. The implied meaning of the pronoun “you” is generally trivial to grasp, either from the initial salutation (Hey honey) or the person’s property on which the message lands (your boss’ desk). Sometimes, a pronoun isn’t even necessary, and this kind of statement has its own name in English grammar: the imperative sentence. Upload these files, reads the sticky note that appeared on your desk, slapped over a flash drive, and you know that someone is telling you to do it—and probably soon.
Of course, many messages are not private in nature. A message may be universal, intended for any person who comes across it. For example, the announcement that the commuter train is delayed due to rail maintenance on track 5, scrolling patiently across the bulbs on a sign board above the platform, does not discriminate between you and the person checking their watch two feet away.
However, there are also the messages whose recipients are more difficult to discern. Often, we come across them purely due to luck or accident, inscribed on unlikely surfaces (the next street corner) or tucked away in crannies (underneath a school desk). Uncovering the identity of the author or the recipient is beside the point; more important is the message’s ability to resonate, or provoke new questions, or simply share thoughts and musings. Below, we consider a few ways these messages might reach us.