The Great Thanksgiving Listen!
In a recent TEDTalk, StoryCorps founder David Isay noted, “Every day, people come up to me and say, I wish I had interviewed my father or my grandmother or my brother. But I waited too long. Now no one has to wait anymore.” What Isay is referring to is the launch of StoryCorps’ Android and iOS app earlier this year, made possible by the 2015 one-million dollar TED Prize. The StoryCorps app allows users to do an oral history interview that can be shared as well as uploaded to the StoryCorps website and archived to the Library of Congress. The beauty of this app is that it gives one the chance to seize the moment AND get the story using a device that is all too often right at their fingertips. No longer does one need to regret having “waited too long.” Isay has stated in interviews that, for him, “the soul is contained in the human voice.”
For some, the human soul, our true essence, resides within the eyes, or within witnessing that mysterious “thing” that animates a person, their mannerisms or way of being. For these folks, StoryCatcher for iPhone, the app I developed in 2013 with my techie-wizard partner Urs Brauchli, is another avenue for capturing and preserving family stories. While the StoryCorps app rests on the creation of audio interviews, StoryCatcher’s purpose is recording sharable life stories on video.
What both of these apps provide is the invaluable framework for effectively capturing a meaningful family story. Both apps give a step-by-step guide, including great questions to ask, so that an interviewee or an interviewer might easily capture and share a loved one’s story. Below this post are tips on how to get the most out of recording stories with your smartphone.
Imagine your child could meet their great-grandparents. Through stories they can. These days, with the growing presence of technology as part of our daily lives, there is a profusion of smart phone apps available to assist one in finding a solution to just about any problem. As such, one could postulate that it’s become easier than ever to record a loved one’s stories. Or has it?
One of the things most professional personal historians live for is the profound privilege of assisting others in authentically sharing their family stories and being the steward of this sacred rite. What we do best is help and guide others in sharing themselves through stories.
Over the last few years, a myriad of options have become available for recording audio or video, on the fly, with a smartphone. Just do a search on The Apple App Store for “record audio” or “record video,” and you’ll be provided with thousands of apps to choose from. What’s missing in most of these audio/video apps is the guidance on HOW to tell and capture a story. Just as a personal historian helps a narrator shape and tell their story in a compelling way, what’s been missing with these audio/video recording apps is exactly that kind of guidance. Now, with StoryCorps and StoryCatcher, that gap has been narrowed.
It would appear the time has surely arrived for us all to embrace the convenience and magic of modern technology. No longer will one have the regret of waiting too long, losing the opportunity to preserve their family stories. Today we have the ability to capture and share the priceless gifts these stories are, right in our pockets.
A version of this post originally appears on The Association of Personal Historians blog; dated March 25, 2015.
Tips For Recording With Your Smartphone:
FIND A QUIET SPOT: Free of background noise and distractions with flattering light, if you’re recording a video.
SET YOUR INTERVIEWEE AT EASE: Make this time together playful and fun – you can always start over with a “Take 2” or “Take 3” if they have trouble finding the exact words they’d like to start with.
SET THEM UP: Have a little conversation prior to filming or recording to see what story they’re interested in sharing. I always pick one that they have a lot of energy around. You can use StoryCatcher’s “Interview Tips” for help. StoryCorps provides prompts as well. Remember, this time is about honoring them, refrain from the need to tell your own stories until after you’ve finished recording. Please DO share stories and consider taking turns recording each other.
LISTEN: It’s such a gift to be the space of listening for another. Remain present and fully engaged while the person relates their tale, giving positive visual cues along the way, such as nods, smiles or an emphatic facial expression.
GIVE THEM SPACE: Sometimes when people pause while speaking it’s because they are accessing an old memory. Don’t give in to the need to fill that space of silence with a question right away – give them the chance to share what might be there for them. Patience is also a gift. You might be surprised what comes out of that generous space.
Blog post author: April Bell is a Professional Personal Historian and founder at Tree of Life Legacies. She has been operating her Personal History Film business in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the United States since 2008. April utilizes her innate skills as an active listener to connect with others and draw out their stories and authentic, heartfelt values to be preserved and shared for generations to come. Her clients include individuals, families and organizations who value the power of story. In an effort to provide the gift of video storytelling to the world at large via a simple, fun and easy to use tool, she and her business partner, iPhone app coder Urs Brauchli, released StoryCatcher for iPhone in the Fall of 2013.