Long Distance Calls

Posted on  by claire.lowenstein

Although podcasts and radio shows are becoming increasingly popular as a narrative device few researchers have explored the potential of audio recordings to reveal something meaningful about the human experience. Even more rare in research, the idea of voicing your experiences over the phone in a payphone to nobody in particular. It seems likely that people might mistakenly use a broken payphone to place a call, but I would venture to guess lots of folks haven’t considered using a telephone booth as a portal to record their experiences. Except maybe in Japan. In Otsuchi, a small northern town in Japan, a man placed a telephone booth in his backyard garden after he lost his cousin to the 2011 Tsunami. He would dial his cousin’s phone number and his words would be “carried on the wind”. Soon, word of his telephone booth spread all over Japan and people came especially to place calls to loved ones they lost in the tsunami. There’s a great “This American Life” episode on it : https://www.thisamericanlife.org/597/one-last-thing-before-i-go. At SERT we are compelled to believe that telephone booths might inspire a sincerity and openness that traditional interviews don’t always allow for. There exists an inherent power imbalance between researcher and participant and at SERT we are always grappling with ways of mediating that division. We believe arts based methodologies can allow students the freedom to have their ideas and experiences guide the work. Having students record their thoughts and feelings into a phone limits the extent to which our status as researchers can inform their responses yet there is still an intimacy about talking over the phone that lets people know they are heard. Pay phones are nostalgic. In “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, Harry and Weasley use a London pay phone to access the Ministry of Magic, in “Superman” Clark Kent uses a payphone to change into Superman. In “A Hard Day”s Night” the Beatles find sanctuary in a payphone in a moving train. This rapidly modernizing world of simultaneously smaller yet larger, smarter smart phones that track our every move, telephone booths can represent a gateway to another word or a tall sound proof shelter from the outside world.

– Claire

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