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I Just Called to Say I Love You

During a trip to Salzburg, Austria, I was wandering through a used book store when I came across a group of old postcards that had been sent to a girl named Anna Hermandinger. Since I don’t read German, the intimacy of the imagery was my only clue into who Anna might have been. Other, anonymous postcards in the pile seemed to suggest possibilities.

To my 21st century mind, casting a physical object into the postal service seemed a slow and precarious way of connecting with loved ones, which made the words they carried that much more precious and urgent – like a message in a bottle. Yet, as I wrestled with modern technology overseas and out-of-network, I struggled to get my smartphone to do any better.

So I blended these postcards with my own attempts to reach out to loved ones during my trip. For protection, I nested my collection into a few discarded phonebooks, another casualty of the virtual age.

As our emails and texts accumulate in anonymous databases, it’s search engines and keywords that shape how future generations will see us. These algorithms excavate bits of our lives and reassemble some version of who we were, the way chance and physics once did to postcards in a used bookstore. How well could I understand anything about Anna Hermandinger? What remnants of me would survive the filters of technology and the journey of distance and time?