Experiments in podcasting: introducing Short Social Stories

As part of the project I am currently wrapping up on the everyday lives and objects of Hong Kong return migrants, Kelly Li and I decided to experiment with modes of communication that are less familiar to us. After getting hooked on several excellent podcasts in the last few years (including This American Life and Radio Lab), I became curious about the possibilities of a pared-down podcast format for disseminating social science research. While I had previously been part of interview- and advice-based podcasts, I thought there might be space for something shorter and more evocative. That is, rather than presenting expert opinions, I was interested in how podcast formats could be conducive to short musings that help to generate questions and new lines of thought.

With this in mind, we decided to jump in and give something a try to see how it would work. This is certainly an experiment, and we don’t have the resources or time that more professional podcasters do. But we thought it would be worthwhile to try the format out and see whether it might spark new interactions around our work.

IMG_3105The result? Something I have decided to call ‘Short Social Stories’. Each episode is a think-piece about five minutes long that tries to encourage curiosity about parts of everyday life that we often don’t pay attention to. The first three offerings highlight thoughts arising from our project on Hong Kong migrants and the objects that they migrate with. If these go well, there is space to expand into other topics and even have other people join in.

After exploring different options for hosting, I decided to go with Soundcloud and thus far I haven’t been disappointed. While this platform is more known for its music-related community, I think the presentation of sound files as waveforms where you can comment on a specific part of the track has a great number of possibilities for public/academic interactions. So far I’ve made use of it by including any direct quotations in the comments, to ensure that due credit is given to other authors and our participants. But I can see the potential for further interaction as well – both questions and comments could be linked to specific parts of the dialogue in a way that isn’t possible on some other hosting sites.

In any case, if you have time please take a listen and let us know what you think. As I say, this is an experiment, and any feedback and constructive criticism about how it works or whether it’s interesting to you would be much appreciated!

If you’d like to see the podcasts on the Soundcloud site itself, you can visit my page here: https://soundcloud.com/everydayallie

They said it

Over the last few weeks, I have spent a lot of time combing through the stuff I left behind. Opening long-closed boxes and marveling at objects I didn’t remember owning. Weighing whether things are meaningful or useful enough to travel across the world to a new home. The physical and emotional work of this sort of excavation is considerable, but it was also a rewarding process because of the moments of surprise.

I had no memory of once wanting to become a naturalist when I grew up. Or of conducting a survey of my Gr. 7 classmates and teachers regarding how much homework is enough and what the purpose of homework should be. But it was fascinating to realize just how much I have stayed the same since I was very young.

For instance, I uncovered many old notebooks filled with quotations. At some point in my teenage years I developed a love for other people’s words. Not just any words, of course, but those that managed to eloquently capture some reality I had just started to become aware of. And so I took to collecting. I found an old school notebook and copied out these phrases by hand, in no particular order. While this project eventually became a chore, with the compulsion to archive weighing down the joy of finding new quotations, I kept the notebooks, and periodically re-read them. Though I didn’t have time to consider their contents during this most recent visit, I realized that in a way I have grown up and taken on a professionalized version of the same process. Instead of just combing through existing wisdom, I now interview people to prompt new insights as well. I’m still fascinated by the captivating things people say, or occasionally don’t say.

Here then is one gem from the project I have been wrapping up on Hong Kong return migrants and changes in everyday life. It came at the end of our last interview and managed to bring together themes that many participants had been expressing:

For me, human beings are animals of habits, patterns. So as life goes on, we do things calling the routine; I eat the same breakfast. Especially we look at most of us who come from a modernized educational system and we look at our schooling. Physically, that’s fitting us into a certain kind of a pattern, certain kind of a routine, everyone is roughly the same. You get a little different choice here and there but roughly, it’s the same.

That being said, different cultures can have very different ways of setting these routines and I was very fortunate to be able to experience tertiary education within another cultural setting. This cultural setting is very different to the one that I had grown up with. And going back to what I said about life processes being cyclical. I mean, I’m in Hong Kong, I eat, I play, I sleep, I do things like that. I’m in the US, same. I’m in Australia, same. However, when I do it in a different space, in a different time, in a different cultural context, I cannot help but look more and clearly, oh, so what it is that I’m doing. Oh, I’m eating because I’m eating something that I don’t usually eat, I am forced to go out of my pattern. Oh, so this is a burrito, I mean, I never had a burrito in Hong Kong prior to my stay in the States. Oh, so this is your sweet and sour pork in the States, well, it’s noting like the sweet and sour pork I’ve ever had in my life. So you call this sweet and sour pork, okay, fine. Things like that.

And looking at life like that is just, first of all, for me, it gave me question marks, sparks of question marks to help me look at my life. What exactly am I doing?

And I dare say, for all of us, it boils down to very simple things. Doing things that you enjoy doing, pursuing it. Whether professionally or not, do it just as a habit or do something that you enjoy doing repeatedly over and over again. Hanging out with people you like hanging out with. Again, professionally or not, just go on with that.

– Daniel, Single, 35-39 Years Old