Skip to main content

Isolated Together: The Online Sound of Digital and Analog Haunting

Published onOct 26, 2023
Isolated Together: The Online Sound of Digital and Analog Haunting


Isolated Together: The Online Sound of Digital and Analog Haunting
Tam Lines, Goldsmiths, University of London

Since the popularisation of the internet, users have produced unique horror media on every available platform – forums, social networks, video sharing sites. Compared to the horror of old media and word-of-mouth storytelling, these often-anonymous (but increasingly less so) internet-based entries are especially concerned with the qualities of the medium itself, culminating in the large-scale trend towards what is commonly called ‘analog horror.’ This genre expresses a fascination and unease within pre-digital media, produced primarily by a generation of young, digital age creators. I interpret the sound and visual of this media through the lens of Mark Fisher’s writing on hauntology – a concept which is itself tied to a pre-digital age – exploring the audible texture of the ‘analog’ and its ideological tension with contemporary capitalist society. Attempting to address the anticipatory pull of hauntology, the not yet, the essay culminates in an examination of digital hauntology. This study revolves around the often-isolated role of the amateur prosumer (who is, in reality, all of us), with specific reference to Jane Schoenbrun’s 2021 film We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. Uploaded on Instagram, Soundcloud and YouTube, I expanded my critique with audiovisual practice, mimicking the prosumer nature of online horror storytelling.


The internet is fast-moving, large to the point of sublime, a network in which, due to cross-platform shareability of content, traditional media boundaries are regularly crossed and demolished. In this environment, a single piece of culture can morph into a constellation of transmedia, spreading across music videos, feature films, video games, fan fiction, dance, and more. According to Henry Jenkins, “transmedia storytelling is the ideal aesthetic form for an era of collective intelligence.”1 While this can apply to a traditional producer/consumer model of media franchises, such as Disney, the most interesting examples of transmedia are arguably those generated by semi-anonymous online communities of user-producers (prosumers). Generated and spread across various platforms by strangers with varying levels of skill and commitment, this networked media, as Carol Vernallis states, “ripple[s] out maddeningly, creating interference, blendings, loosenings of boundaries in ways we’ve never seen.”2

Many of the most inventive of these audiovisual worlds belong to the horror genre. Some, such as Slender Man, SCP Foundation, and KrainaGrzybówTV, began on the internet, while many creepypastas – horror stories disseminated by online users, usually through the act of copying and pasting – have expanded existing franchises such as Pokémon (Lavender Town Syndrome), Legend of Zelda (Ben Drowned), and Disney (suicidemouse.avi), creating a sense of unease by disrupting the audience’s previous relationships to these worlds.3

Internet horror is often concerned with the uneasy consumption of media itself, often taking the form of found footage, in the vein of The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, 1999) and Ghostwatch (Stephen Volk, 1992), or echoing the premise of Japanese horror film Ring (Hideo Nakata, 1998), to present the media artefact as itself a threat.4

A Digital Hauntology

The relationship between popular media and its potential to harbour ghosts has perhaps been most notably explored in the English language by Mark Fisher in his various essays on hauntology, a term originally coined by Jacques Derrida. While the focus of Fisher’s hauntology shifts subtly throughout his writing, it is built on an awareness of the inseparability of presence and absence, informed by Derrida’s earlier concepts of ‘trace’ and ‘différance.’5 As Fisher puts it, “everything that exists is possible only on the basis of a whole series of absences, which precede and surround it, allowing it to possess such consistency and intelligibility that it does.”6 Hauntology, then, concerns a relationship between actual, present reality and virtual spectres which act on reality without physically existing. This tends to be framed in a temporal dimension, with ghosts lingering from lost pasts and spectres influencing behaviour towards an approaching future. Fisher defines these two directions neatly:

The first [direction] refers to that which is (in actuality is [sic]) no longer, but which remains effective as a virtuality (the traumatic ‘compulsion to repeat’, a fatal pattern). The second sense of hauntology refers to that which (in actuality) has not yet happened, but which is already effective in the virtual (an attractor, an anticipation shaping current behaviour).7

These two hauntological directions proliferate in contemporary horror, both online and in traditional media. However, the ghost stories which exist online are uniquely entangled in the medium through which they are shared, in its heavy absences and strange presences. As Joe Ondrak writes, “the widespread integration of these communication technologies and platforms into daily life has … produced a new form of haunting, with ghosts and monstrous entities lurking alongside the real people we communicate with through social media text spaces.”8

This essay will explore online hauntology specifically through a consideration of the prosumer, a similar figure to the fan fiction writer or folk storyteller, as they occupy a position as both audience and author. Unlike these comparisons, the transmedial fictions I reference have specific qualities inextricably linked to their online settings. As Ondrak pointed out, the ability to instantly share, remix and directly interact with internet horror is lost as soon as the work is moved to an offline medium.9 Initially I will explore two hauntological no longers within transmedial internet horror. One of these qualities is the incessant backwards pull of the ‘analog’ in online horror communities. These prosumers continuously return to a grainy past, that in many cases, including for Kane Pixels and Wiktor Stribog, they were too young to have experienced first-hand. The other quality concerns the hauntological traces that are inherent to online amateur content. Internet mediated interactions carry an ambiguous mix of presence and absence, and internet users (that will probably include you, reader) leave innumerable ghostly traces scattered across various platforms, often forgotten even by their creators. I will explore this spectral prosumer with a close examination of Jane Schoenbrun’s 2021 film We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

Despite noting the two directions of hauntology, Fisher’s major work tended to focus more on the no longer than the not yet. However, the compulsive pull towards the unknown or monstrous is a mainstay of horror, and online media brings its own hauntological curses. In my study of World’s Fair, I will explore how the protagonist, Casey, is embroiled in these anticipatory hauntings.

Lastly, I responded to this research by producing three platform-specific artworks, or ‘hauntings,’ which I uploaded to YouTube, Instagram and Soundcloud. In these pieces I engaged with the hypermedial artefacts suffusing analog horror and World’s Fair, as well as the ghostly quality of amateur content. The last section of this essay will engage reflectively with the digital hauntologies of my practice research.

Grainy Textures Over Cybernetic Networks

Once media is online, it proliferates, it transforms, it hybridises with other memes and references. Across popular social media sites, content platforms, niche forums, and private chats, a stable concept mutates, grows limbs, sometimes twisting into something terrifying. Often, one can track the trajectory of a piece of online horror as it develops from a lone entry by an identifiable author into a sprawling transmedial network.

Slender Man emerged as an edited black-and-white photograph by the user Victor Surge from the Something Awful forum in 2009, on a thread titled “Create Paranormal Images.” This picture depicts a disconcertingly tall man lurking behind a group of children, with a creepy by-line: “we didn't want to go, we didn't want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…” (see Figure 1)10 Ten days later, the channel Marble Hornetsemerged on YouTube, reinterpreting Slender Man as a found footage web series.11 By the time I came across Slender Man in 2012, watching YouTubers play a video game spin-off, Slender Man had traversed many forms of media while managing to maintain tonal consistency, thanks to constant maintenance by its community.12 Shira Chess notes the similarities between this communal storytelling process and the procedures of Open Source software, while Axel Bruns would probably cite it as an example of “produsage,” the generative and self-regulating processes of “user-led spaces.”13 Thanks to community upkeep, we can identify key elements of the myth: for example, Slender man is tall, thin, appears in a suit and is generally found in rural wooded areas.

Figure 1. An early depiction of Slender Man by Viktor Surge. Glenn Gaslin, “The Slenderman Legend: Everything You Need To Know,” CBS News, March 6, 2017,

A more recent piece of Open Source horror, The Backrooms, began with an anonymous post on a 4chan thread for “unsettling images” in 2019, before spreading to other platforms, reaching its most famous iteration in “The Backrooms (Found Footage),” uploaded to YouTube in 2022 by then 17-year-old Kane Pixels.14 Like Slender Man, the community of The Backrooms has maintained a consistent lore, consisting of an alternate reality of vast, winding networks of liminal spaces, reminiscent of mid-century offices, shopping centres and hotels, with no access to the outside (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. The original Backrooms image. “Unsettling Images,” 4plebs, accessed January 27, 2023,

Notably, in the audiovisual expressions of both The Backrooms and Slender Man, the content takes the found footage form of a videotape, a low quality, pre-digital recording carrying noticeable sonic and visual artefacts. This hypermediacy plays a key role in their narrative content. According to Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin, in hypermedial work, “representation is conceived of not as a window onto the world, but rather as ‘windowed' itself.”15 The audience is reminded they are watching or listening to a recording, drawing them to consider the implications that this insistent media texture brings. Line Henriksen, in her writing on creepypastas, notes that online horror fictions “tend to be preoccupied with questions of authenticity, often presenting themselves as true stories that reveal some sinister truth about the world,” albeit in an often playful and self-aware manner.16 In the case of these pieces of horror, the ‘analog’ artefacts (despite the fact they are often faked with digital software) give a sense of authenticity to the work.

The medium and the monster become inextricable in these audiovisual worlds. The audience of Marble Hornets learns to detect Slender Man’s proximity from audible artefacts in the tapes rather than by seeing him outright. Similarly, one of The Backrooms’defining features is its uncomfortable audiovisual artefacts, like constant room tone. The monster presents itself via the hypermedial sound affects of the medium itself, and the medium drives the narrative – these recorders are there in the fictional world, susceptible to wind noise, being shaken, fumbled, or dropped. This retro, lo-fi affect is not unique to these pieces, however, but indicative of a wider online trend of analog horror.

Analog Horror and Hauntology

In an essay on the “analog,” Jonathan Sterne points out that the word itself is currently defined not by any one specific characteristic, but by being the negation of the digital.17 The analog is treated as a historical entity dating from the late 19th- to the late 20th-centuries, partly to define the parameters of new digital media.18 As an inherent negative or absence, this conception of the analog fits neatly within the conceptual framework of hauntology. According to Mark Fisher, the upsurge in hauntological art over the last few decades mourns the loss of a popular modernist vision of the future, a utopianism that lines up chronologically with Sterne’s “analog era.”19 To Fisher, certain locations and pieces of media are “stained by time,” resisting “the contraction and homogenization of time and space” that cybertechnology engenders.20 Hauntological art, then, taps into this “stain of time” to resist an amnesiac contemporary culture. Just as hauntological musicians of the 2000s “were preoccupied with the way in which technology materialised memory,” the artists behind analog horror use hypermedial affect to conjure spectres from the past, attempting to resist the atemporality of the internet.21

Fisher argues that this “materialised memory,” that can be found in vinyl crackle, tape warble and static, “won’t allow us to fall into the illusion of presence,” as they shift our attention from the recording itself and towards the playback systems that we play them on.22 In the case of analog horror, however, this attention shift from recorded content to the recording device accentuates a sense of presence. The monster loses its temporal and spatial distance from the viewer once it enters the grain of the medium, as it transforms from spectral image into physical object. It becomes part of the playback device itself, like Sadako Yamamura, the murderous spectre of the Ring films. In such a way, the hypermedial qualities of analog horror generate a sense of immediacy, a higher proximity to the threat – it’s in your room right now. 

Some forms of analog horror, however, align more with the melancholic hauntology that Fisher championed. “Indistinct Chatter,” a piece of analog horror by Wiktor Stribog, purports to be an unaired TV show from the 1980s.23 Throughout the 30 minutes of its first (and, at time of writing, only) episode, we are accompanied by a constant hiss, thin voices, and warbling synths. Paired with shadow-laden claymation and retro adverts, the experience is dreamlike and unsettling. Halfway in, the protagonist communes with a bathroom that used to occupy the space of his bedroom, his voice taking on the tinny resonances of that ghostly space. He imagines homes in grainy black and white photos, claiming “I could have lived there.” Similarly, in one part of Stribog’s popular series “Poradnik Uśmiechu(Smile Guide), we are presented with brutalist tower blocks sitting above a sea of flowers, representing a nostalgia for popular modernism underneath the horror.24 The body horror, unease, and threat are permeated with lost hope and bitter nostalgia for the imagined futures of mid-century utopianism.

Anticipatory Haunting in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

While they are produced outside of traditional media studios and institutional structures, the analog horror of Kane Pixel’s “The Backrooms” and Stribog’s “Indistinct Chatter” represents a very high level of skill on the part of their creators. This is not indicative of the wider online horror community. The amateur has an essential role in spreading and developing this content, creating the networks of dissemination, blurring the line of author and audience. In fact, creepypastas often impel users with ‘curses’ to share their content widely, or risk suffering supernatural consequences. Web 2.0 ushered in an age of participation; sometimes non-participation is out of the question.

My earliest encounter with a creepypasta was in a chatroom on MSN Messenger around 2008. Suddenly a username that I associated with my friend sent a long message from the perspective of a murdered teenage girl, impelling us to share her message to at least three other chat rooms. Failure to do so would result in our own death that very night. 

I had been cursed, drawn to act in anticipation of virtual violence. Furthermore, to escape potential demise, I would need to curse others. In “‘Spread the Word’: Creepypasta, Hauntology, and an Ethics of the Curse,” Line Henriksen writes about the anticipatory hauntology of Curious Case, a similar, if more sophisticated, iteration of the creepypasta I received that night:

The curse demands a response. The “Curious Case” addresses its readers directly, asking them to “spread the word,” and it is up to them to decide whether what is in front of them is a hoax or not. In order to make such a decision, the reader will have to orient themselves toward a future where a monster may arrive. This is, of course, an impossibility for surely there is no such thing as monsters, curses, ghosts, or ghouls, and as already mentioned, creepypasta has a tongue-in-cheek approach to its own claims of authenticity. Still, the “Curious Case” asks its readers to consider this impossibility and respond.25

In this essay, Henriksen writes on the effects of the hauntological not yet found in creepypastas, what she calls the “monstrous arrivant.” This arrivant, a virtual entity that “arrives without ever arriving,” emerges out the ambiguity of curses – even if the monster never arrives, it still threatens to appear at any moment: “whatever the reader decides … now all they can do is wait for the monstrous arrivant, which is paradoxically already here, its effects felt.”26

In Jane Schoenbrun’s indie horror film, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, we begin with a curse. In the opening scene of the film, we look out from the perspective of a webcam at a teenage girl, Casey, as she performs the ritual to take part in the “World’s Fair Challenge,” “the internet’s scariest online horror game.” As a participant, or prosumer, in an online horror subculture, Casey uploads vlogs to YouTube detailing the “symptoms” of her internet-induced transformation into “something else.” She watches clips of other participants showing off how they have changed into something more monstrous: a woman sings of being turned to plastic; a young man dissociatively describes being filled with Tetris blocks; another user shows off their wings. Casey’s trajectory through the film is defined by the anticipation of what she will herself transform into. When she connects with JLB, a middle-aged man, she looks to him to explain what this shift will entail. While JLB knows that the challenge is a hoax, Casey is unaware, and as a result has cursed herself with a monstrous arrivant, which, although fake, causes real change in her personality, exacerbating her dissociative tendencies and culminating in unstable and suicidal behaviour towards the end of the film.

World’s Fair is a quiet film; the soundtrack consists of tapping and clicking, wind and rain battering Casey’s room, user interface noises, and quiet voices transmitted from low quality laptop and phone speakers. James Wierzbicki has noted that what is experienced as “quiet” in film is not necessarily low volume, but the conspicuous absence of louder noises.27 This is true of both the hushed 2am quality of World’s Fair and the midnight radio quietude of “Indistinct Chatter.” However, in the latter we are always accompanied by hiss, confirming its analog authenticity, while in World’s Fair, the quiet is digital: the silence of scrolling through YouTube searches, accompanied by the screen’s soft glow. 

Throughout the film we are presented with screens within our screen, recorded sound passing through multiple devices before leaving our speakers. Weird audiovisual doubling highlights the thin, flat presence of the screen, as it disembodies and defamiliarises the voice, imbuing it with a ghostly quality, filled with washy noise and strange pops.28 Holly Rogers writes that in the work of David Lynch, “sounds strain beyond the frame, never succumbing to a state of de-acousmatization.”29 While Schoenbrun does not allow sound to remain de-acousmatised, they do generate “shudder[s] in the audiovisual fabric” by modulating the sonic mediation between us and the characters.30 Instead of straining beyond the screen of the cinema, the sound of World’s Fair pulls us in and out of screens. The characters themselves pop into each other’s homes via YouTube and Skype, delocalised via screen and speakers. Meanwhile, certain videos appear at different times for different characters, expressing the "contraction and homogenization of time and space” that, to Fisher, defines the internet age.31

As the film develops, the quiet pressure of the computer screen heightens until it envelops the audience. As Schoenbrun describes, “[o]ne of the visual arcs of the movie is we drift closer and closer to the screen until, in the middle of the movie, you aren’t seeing the screen at a remove anymore. You’re fully within it.”32 Schoenbrun, however, underplays the effect that ‘entering’ the screen has on the film’s sound. In these sections within the computer screen, we are confronted with true media silence. YouTube videos play unmediated by the speakers which usually locate the sound in a physical environment (00:37:52 – 00:41:58; 00:46:30 – 00:54:10; 00:55:25 – 1:06:25). Interspersed between these clips is an autoplay screen – two thin arrows on a black background matched with total silence, a sensory vacuum. This screen occurs earlier in the film, rooted on a screen in the physical world, as Casey watches. But here it is abstracted, without ambience, placed onto our screen. 

The autoplay screen confronts the audience with what Fisher called “a failure of presence.”33 In Fisher’s writing on the eerie, he defined the concept as the “opposition … between presence and absence.”34 In other words, the eerie emerges out of a metaphysical question of “why is there something here when there should be nothing? Why is there nothing here when there should be something?35 The digital silence of the autoplay screen is a much heavier quiet than the hiss of tape and vinyl. The potentially infinite spinning of the buffering circle draws Casey and the viewer deeper into its charged sonic absence. 

The autoplay screen is also the source of the only jump scare in the film, conforming perfectly to the logics of that common horror film technique. Projected onto a wall, the buffering circle extends the visual and aural silence indefinitely, in contrast to the video that came before. The tantalising absence of sound points to an incoming monstrous presence, drawing the viewer in, and then bang, the monster appears. However, the autoplay screen gives way not to a monster, but a transformed image of Casey, with black caverns for eyes and a melting face, uploaded by JLB. Maniacal laughter and a generic Halloween soundtrack play over words directed to Casey: “YOU ARE IN DANGER” (00:29:22).

Through the buffering screen of the autoplay, Schoenbrun points again to the temporal displacement inherent to online content platforms. YouTube delivers algorithmic montages of semi-related content, produced by disparate people over a range of dates and locales, and the content slew does not stop, instead potentially playing onwards in perpetuity. While analog horror media is permeated by a homogenous sound quality, the autoplay is a product of digital horror, characterised by sudden aural shifts from video to video, sound to silence, or silence to sound, often mediated through tiny, poor-quality speakers.

Uncomfortable Intimacy, Ghostly Voices

Around a third into the film, just before the autoplay’s jump scare, Casey walks to a barn in the middle of the night, sits on a sofa and turns something on with a remote (00:25:25). The camera remains focused on her as she turns off her lamp and whispers fill the barn: “Hey. Shhh. You’re ok. Shh. Did you have a bad dream?” The voice, untethered to a visual source, takes on an eerily intimate quality as we attempt to identify it – is it a recording of Casey’s absent mother? The amplification of the woman’s shushes, her breathing, and the clicks and pops of her mouth bring her uncomfortably close. According to Lisa Coulthard, mouth sounds, in their intimacy, are especially effective for eliciting disgust, “[carrying] with them a particularly evocative ‘too close’-ness.”36 Slowly the camera pulls around to show the screen, a bedsheet hung on a wall, a face stretching beyond its boundary, her fingers stroking across the screen. The discomfort remains even after we realise that ‘in reality’ we are experiencing an ASMR video. 

World’s Fair regularly uses digital mediation to bring the sound of the mouth ‘too close.’ When Casey meets JLB on Skype for the first time his heavy breathing suddenly quietens when our perspective shifts from Skype to the less conspicuously mediated, cinematic, sound of his office.

Prosumer culture is defined by this often-uncomfortable intimacy. Many, like Casey, share their personal spaces with strangers, or consume media by strangers that appear to speak directly to them. Carol Vernallis notes that uploading videos is a form of social exchange, and an optimistic internet theorist like Axel Bruns would argue that this social exchange has a tendency towards collaboration and progression.37 However, highly personalised media is often parasocial, not reciprocal, and, following Guy Debord, even when these interactions are reciprocal, they are mediated by appearances above all else.38 Raffaele Sciortino and Steve Wright, proponents of Debord’s theory of “The Spectacle,” argue that on social media, reality is “swallowed up by appearance” and Web 2.0 platforms tend to facilitate superficial interactions between their users, who remain “isolated together.”39

While the analog implies authenticity, the digital environment of World’s Fair is inauthentic by nature.40 To Henriksen, the hoax is inherent to the digital horror medium, destabilising the user themselves: “in trickery, people copy monsters and are then copied by their monsters, creating an uncanny circulation of copies, where there is little to any difference between being and appearing.”41 By the end of the film, Casey expresses that she feels like she is in a dream, that everything is “fake.” Finally, after discovering that the “World’s Fair Challenge” is just a role-playing game, Casey disconnects from JLB and disappears from the film. By unwittingly engaging in a Debordian game of appearances Casey comes to an ambiguous, ghostly end.

Personal Hauntings

The world I have explored in this essay is one in which amateurs, often uncomfortably, engage with participatory platforms. The story of We’re All Going to the World’s Fair struck me as one of the truest depictions of ‘being online’ in film, due to its uncomfortable focus on the isolated and content-driven sociality of its two characters. I decided the most appropriate way to respond to this multifaceted story of haunting was to explore my own role as prosumer, both at present and in my early forays into social media as a young teenager, similar to Casey’s age. Across Instagram, Soundcloud and YouTube, I produced a micro-constellation of work, each piece exploring a different section of this essay through audiovisual practice.

On Instagram, I uploaded a two-minute video, “Ghosts We Made,” layering footage of the protagonist of Marble Hornets exploring an abandoned building, video static from Kris Straub’s LOCAL58TV, and footage I took of Cottons Garden Estate in Kennington, London.42 The soundtrack was composed using my modular synthesiser and a tape player, emulating a variety of analog horror audio tropes, such as hiss, murky sound quality and pitch fluctuation. I aimed to express the feeling of being pulled between ghosts of the past (the idealistic projects of Brutalist tower blocks; the abandoned house of Marble Hornets) and the anticipatory draw of the haunted. 

Haunting A - “Ghosts We Made.”

In the loop from Marble Hornets’ “Entry #16,” the protagonist repeatedly finds a door in the darkness, pulls it open and steps towards the monstrous arrivant, drawing them forwards towards ruin.43 Paradoxically, the presence of analog artefacts and the architectural remains of popular modernism pull backwards into a decayed past – loss pressing into our social psyche while remaining fundamentally inaccessible. 

On Soundcloud, I uploaded an audio piece, “Isolated Breath,” exploring the uncomfortable closeness of digital voices, taking two clips of digitally mediated speech from World’s Fair and cutting the words out, leaving only the non-verbal mouth sounds.44 Here I drew on Coulthard’s theory of sonic disgust to highlight the proximity of the mouth in online content: “suggestive of intimacy, immersion, and contagion, mouth sounds are associated with both sex and horror and carry with them a particularly evocative ‘too close’-ness that seems crucial to conceiving sonic disgust.”45 The misophonic result expresses the digital voice’s alluring and disgusting intimacy. Meanwhile, the noisy artefacts of digitally compressed audio and human breath on microphone membranes paradoxically give the piece a distant, wind-like quality.

Haunting B - “Isolated Breath.”

On YouTube, I produced a video essay, “Message for Casey,” quoting one of JLB’s videos in World’s Fair. Here I mimicked the produsage of World’s Fair.46 I decided to take an introspective approach, talking about my own experience on the internet in my early teens, finding parallels with Casey’s online existence. The video consists of a mishmash of voice memos, phone calls, podcasts, and YouTube videos. By positioning myself in the place of Casey and JLB, I also expressed the uncomfortable parasocial intimacy of content creation, oversharing my personal life and my domestic space. The audiovisual content is intentionally amateur, while the audio is disjointed, passed through different devices, apps, and speakers, taking on the noise of lo-fi digital communication.

Haunting C - “Message for Casey.”

Throughout World’s Fair, JLB repeatedly implores Casey to “keep making videos” so he knows she is okay. While phrased as concern, this command shares similarities with the compulsive curses found in Henriksen’s writing on creepypastas. The requirement to keep producing content impels Casey towards a monstrous other, which begins to appear in her videos, tearing up her beloved soft toy and threatening to shoot her father. Henriksen writes that “these ghosts of the past as well as of the future already speak through the subject, ventriloquizing the reader, helping them to spread the word.”47 Similarly, letting Casey and JLB speak through me, I inhabited the ghosts of my own past.

The media I featured in Message for Casey includes content I might consume nowadays, such as the podcast “This American Life,” but also features the YouTuber Crabstickz, whose videos I would watch regularly as a young adolescent. His sketches inspired me to upload my first video onto YouTube and, although I cannot find that clip anymore, I believe it may still exist in Google’s vast datacentres. This lost vlog is not particularly unique. I was just one of hundreds of thousands of adolescents contributing to an increasingly ubiquitous prosumer culture, an experience reflected in Casey’s story.

Casey’s content is, like most people’s, on the verge of oblivion. Schoenbrun makes this clear in an interview: “I was … just being really honest and true to what is ambiguous about using the internet … sometimes people just disappear without a trace, or sometimes you see a video and you have no idea what the intentions of the person who made it are.”48 Or as Vernallis puts it, “All of that empty data that no one watches makes me anxious … those orphaned audiovisual clips haunt me.”49 Amateurs like us continue to upload the media of our lives to the internet. Most of it quickly becomes unseen and unsought, isolated together in the cold and dark of data centres, at a scale far greater than the Lost Media of the analog past. When Casey disappears, only the haunting trace of her content remains, among innumerable other audiovisual ghosts, including mine.


Bolter, Jay and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.

Bruns, Axel. “Welcome to" December 12, 2022.

Chess, Shira. “OPEN-SOURCING HORROR: The Slender Man, Marble Hornets, and Genre Negotiations.” Information, Communication & Society 15, no. 3 (2012): 374-393.

Coulthard, Lisa. “Acoustic Disgust: Sound, Affect, and Cinematic Violence.” In The Palgrave Handbook of Sound Design and Music in Screen Media: Integrated Soundtracks, edited by Liz Greene and Danijela Kulezic-Wilson, 182-193. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Princeton: Zone Books, 1994.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: The John’s Hopkins University Press, 1974.

Fisher, Mark. “What is Hauntology?.” Film Quarterly 66, no. 1 (Fall 2012): 16-24.

Fisher, Mark. Ghosts Of My Life: Writings on Depressions, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Winchester: Zero Books, 2014.

Fisher, Mark. The Weird and the Eerie. London: Repeater Press, 2016.

Gaslin, Glenn. “The Slenderman Legend: Everything You Need To Know.” CBS News, March 6, 2017.

Henriksen, Line. “‘Spread the Word’": Creepypasta, Hauntology, and an Ethics of the Curse.” University of Toronto Quarterly 87, no. 1 (Winter 2018): 266-280.

Jenkins, Henry. “Transmedia Storytelling 101.” Henry Jenkins, March 21, 2007.

Ondrak, Joe. “Spectres des Monstres: Post-postmodernisms, Hauntology and creepypasta Narratives as Digital Fiction.” Horror Studies 9, no. 2 (October 2018): 161-178.

Rogers, Holly. “The Audiovisual Eerie: Transmediating Thresholds in the Work of David Lynch.” Transmedia Directors: Artistry, Industry and New Audiovisual Aesthetics, edited by Carol Vernallis, Holly Rogers, and Lisa Perrott, 241-270. New York: Bloomsbury, 2020.

Sciortino, Raffaele and Steve Wright. “The Spectacle of New Media: Addressing the Conceptual Nexus Between User Content and Valorization.” In The Spectacle 2.0: Reading Debord in the Context of Digital Capitalism, edited by Marco Briziarelli and Emiliana Armano, 81-94. London: University of Westminster Press, 2017.

Smith, Orla. “Jane Schoenbrun Wants We‘re All Going to the World’s Fair to ‘Scare You and Make You Cry’.” Seventh Row, February 3, 2021.

Sterne, Jonathan. “Analog.” In Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary of Information Society and Culture, edited by Benjamin Peters, 31-44. Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2016.

Vernallis, Carol. Unruly Media: YouTube, Music Video, and the New Digital Cinema. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Wierzbicki, James. “Sound Effect and Sound Affect.” The Palgrave Handbook of Sound Design and Music in Screen Media: Integrated Soundtracks, edited by Greene, Liz, and Danijela Kulezic-Wilson, 153-168. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Media Cited

4plebs. “Unsettling Images.” Accessed January 27, 2023,

Crabstickz. YouTube channel. Accessed January 27, 2023.

Creepypasta Wiki. “BEN Drowned.” Accessed January 27, 2023.

Creepypasta Wiki. “Lavender Town Syndrome.” Accessed January 27, 2023.

Creepypasta Wiki. “suicidemouse.avi.” Accessed January 27, 2023.

Ghostwatch. Directed by Stephen Volk. Film. London: BBC, 1992.

JJ Olatunji. “KSIOlajidebt Plays | Slender (Part 1).” YouTube video, 8:04. July 20, 2012. Accessed December 12, 2022.

Kane Pixels. “The Backrooms (Found Footage)” YouTube video, 9:13. January 7, 2022. Accessed December 12, 2022.

KrainaGrzybowTV. “Indistinct Chatter 1 – Have You Ever Seen a Cow?.” YouTube video, 30:16. December 23, 2022. Accessed January 14, 2023,

KrainaGrybowTV. “Smile Guide 6 - How Your Child.” YouTube video, 6:44. April 1, 2017. Accessed August 9, 2023.

KrainaGrzybowTV. YouTube channel. Accessed January 27, 2023.

Lin, Tam. “Isolated Breath.” Soundcloud, January 23, 2023.

LOCAL58TV. YouTube channel. Accessed December 12, 2022.

Marble Hornets. “Entry #16.” YouTube video, 7:56. October 16, 2009. Accessed August 9, 2023.

Marble Hornets. YouTube channel. Accessed January 27, 2023.

Ring. Directed by Hideo Nakata. Film. Ringu-Rasen Production Committee: Tokyo, 1998.

SCP Foundation. “Main.” Accessed 27 January, 2023.

Something Awful Forums. “Create Paranormal Images.” Accessed 12 December 2022.

Tam Lines. “Message for Casey.” YouTube video, 8:37. January 27, 2023. Accessed January 27, 2023.

The Blair Witch Project. Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez. Film. Orlando: Haxan Films, 1999.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. Directed by Jane Schoenbrun. Film. New York: Dweck Productions; Flies Collective, 2021.


Tam Lines is an artist, musician, and writer based in London, with a special interest in the affective entanglements between the human and non-human (e.g., animals, technology, architecture) and the political implications of these relationships. They have recently released an EP with Hard Return under the moniker Tam Lin, included work in “What is Happening Inside?” at the Barbican Centre, and completed a Sonic Art Master’s at Goldsmiths, University of London which culminated in a thesis exploring the eerie strangeness and utopian potential of digital audio fiction (“Letting the Out-side in: Utopian Practice Research into Aural Bubbles and Eerie Voices”).

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?