Essentially the Synaptic Crowd platform enables online participants to conduct collaborative “on the street” interviews without actually having to be “on the street.” Interviews are conducted in physical space through an intermediary wielding a camera and a phone, but the responsibility of determining questions gets placed on the shoulders of the audience participants.
The Synaptic Crowd tool integrates browser and mobile interfaces, along with face-to-face interaction.
Online participants submit potential questions or statements to a public pool, and then the question or statement that has been selected most gets relayed to the intermediary’s phone.
Online participants watch the interviewee’s response as they formulate follow-ups. By enabling a live feedback loop between audience and subject, the Synaptic Crowd shuffles the agencies of the interview and enables participants to ask different kinds of questions than are normally licensed by a traditional interview format. These audience generated questions often create contextual breakdown by forcing participants to mix intimate and professional registers. As the interviewee (and phone wielding intermediary) try to make sense of these contextual curve-balls, a new kind of civic space gets carved out with new intersection points between the personal and the political. In this sense, I situate the work as “making trouble” for the assumptions that traditional journalism creates when it uses social media sampling and vox pop interviews to curate the public back to itself.
The Synaptic Crowd: Vox Pop Experiments, serves as a key example for me in demonstrating what it might look like to reimagine our civic rituals from the ground up. Drawing upon McLuhan’s imagery of electronic media as prosthetic extensions, the project explores a series of performative experiments that reposition the “street” (and other public spaces) as sites to be activated by remote audiences.
For more information, here is a talk I gave at DIY Citizenship conference in which I discuss how the involvement of a live audiences disrupts our expectations about the interview form. You can take a look at the prototype here (although keep in mind that the tool only works when it’s live, and right now that means “we” have to turn it on). Going forward, we’d like to create a scalable version that anyone can use, and our Knight News Challenge proposal aims to do just that.
(2009) Work originally exhibited at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History in InterActivate, the MFA Thesis Show for UC Santa Cruz’s Digital Arts and New Media program. Created in collaboration with developer Brian Alexakis.
[Project lead: Joshua McVeigh-Schultz, Flash and VXML development: Brian Alexakis, Videography: Lorenzo Estébanez and Joshua McVeigh-Schultz]