Having watched this project unfold over the past 2+ years, I’ve noticed that there are naturally several small misconceptions that arise along the way, such as the belief that I’m meeting all 10,000 people in Philadelphia (the goal is actually the first 1,000ish in Philly and the next 9,000 a mix of Philly & the world) or the idea that I only meet with people who have Instagram accounts (I keep track of my project on Instagram, but I’ll meet anyone! You don’t need technology to have conversation :)). The most common misconception by far, though, is the belief that I’m interviewing people so I wanted to take some time today to share that I’m not interviewing people and explain a bit about why.
When I first started this project, I pitched it as a goal to spend one hour with 10,000 different people to see what comes of opening doors for no particular reason. I simply wanted to meet new people without any type of agenda because I’ve found in the post-graduate world that people tend to connect only when there’s an established purpose, be it dating or business. I felt like there were limited opportunities to naturally connect like I had done with so many of my now good friends during my college days at Penn State. Therefore, I set out to chat with people, one-on-one, for an hour at a time so that we could pass each other on the street on a later date as friends rather than strangers.
In the early days of my project, I wrote Instagram captions like the one below because I wanted to keep the focus on the fact that Jim and I connected rather than tell a tale about his life.
On July 28, 2016, though, while I was out at a Black Eyed Peas concert (yes, it was lit), one of my former coworkers Facebook messaged me, saying, “You need to start your Instagram captions off with a bang. Consider the cutoff that insta enforces. I’m not going to read about how someone graduated from Temple. You have to work on the upside down pyramid that journalists use.” (at the time, I was meeting a ton of Temple students and mainly sharing their majors and job aspirations). That comment, coupled with my continuous development as a storyteller throughout the years eventually led to the style I write in today, a quote followed by somewhat of a summary of that person’s life.
Because I now write in this style, it understandably appears as though I’m interviewing people so that I can share their stories with my audience. However, we’re actually just naturally chatting and I’m writing, in story form, what I remember from our conversation (I never record conversations or take notes so everything you see is just what sticks with me!). I always say that the stories I write are just a byproduct of the time I spend with each person (what I consider the core value of my project), but I like sharing them because it gives people a little bit of the perspective that I’m gaining with each new conversation I have!
Whenever I meet with someone, I picture it as catching up with an old friend I just haven’t met yet. I ask questions because I’m curious about their lives, but I always enjoy when people take the time to get to know me as well! After all, the goal is to pass each other on the streets as friends rather than strangers on a later date. That said, I also believe that we can spend an hour of time together creating memories that aren’t based solely in conversation. Though I’m always learning about those with whom I meet, sometimes it takes the form of activities such as playing music, surfing, riding rollercoasters at Disneyland, or playing baseball!
I hope that as my project continues to grow the ways in which I spend my hour with each person continue to diversify as well because I want to experience life with people rather than sitting down and running through a list of questions together. So!…that said, here are a few reasons why I don’t refer to my meetings as interviews:
- It creates false expectations amongst the people I meet – A lot of times I’ll hear people come in with questions about how I got started with my project and what my background is. They’ll catch themselves being inquisitive and will quickly apologize, saying, “Oh I’m sorry! I know you’re supposed to be asking me all of the questions!” I always respond, “Oh I don’t have any questions for you, you can ask whatever you want! We’re just chatting!” because I want us to walk away feeling like we know each other. I’ve had meetings where we talked about all different aspects of life. I’ve had meetings where we spent 45 minutes discussing scuba diving. I’ve had meetings where we attended a performance and didn’t really chat at all. All are the right answers as to how the meeting is supposed to go!
- It devalues the idea of connecting with each other for no reason – I don’t have any grand plans for my project other than to complete it because I like going with the flow, but I do think it’d be cool if people saw my meetings as an example that it’s ok to chat with each other without a particular reason. When my meetings start to become labeled as interviews, though, it adds a level of formality to my project that distances it from an everyday activity that anyone can do. People may think, “Well he’s interviewing people, which is why he connects with strangers,” as opposed to “He’s just chatting with the people around him. I can do that too!” While interviews are typically recorded by journalists, authentic human interaction is something we can all practice :).
- It limits people’s imaginations as to what we can do with an hour of time – I think my ideal vision for this project is a crossroads between The Buried Life, Humans of New York and Dirty Jobs. While I love learning about people’s backgrounds, I also love connecting with them in unique ways and being exposed to activities that are completely foreign to me. I’m always eager to learn about people’s pasts, presents and futures, but doing so over an activity like skydiving or bungee jumping never hurts!
All in all, I just wanted to explain that while I write stories that admittedly look like they’re derived from interviews, I am, in fact, not interviewing people. So if we haven’t met yet and we plan to do so someday in the future, just know that I won’t have a list of questions prepared for you. What I will have is a willingness to get to know you, a willingness to tell you about myself and an openness to doing something as simple as grabbing coffee or as wild as knockerball soccer (jk, we probably shouldn’t do that one, but you get the point)!
Thanks for reading!