Vox Pop Experiments

This project explores what happens to on-the-street interviews when they are driven by live online audiences. Drawing on McLuhan’s imagery of electronic media as prosthetic extensions, I designed a platform that lets online audiences conduct collaborative “on the street” interviews without actually being “on the street.” A hybrid mobile and browser-based interface enabled live audiences to speak through an intermediary wielding a camera and a phone. 
Using this platform, online participants could submit potential questions or statements to a public pool and then vote to select the best question/statement from among alternatives. The question or statement that has been selected most would be relayed to the intermediary’s phone. Online participants could then watch the interviewee’s response and formulate follow-ups. By enabling this live feedback loop between audience and subject, the platform enabled participants to ask different kinds of questions than are normally licensed by a traditional interview format. These audience generated questions often created contextual tensions that forced participants to mix intimate and professional registers. In this way, a new kind of civic ritual emerged with surprising intersection points between the personal and the political. In theoretical writing, I have situated 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 project still serves as a key example for me in demonstrating what it might look like to reimagine our civic rituals from the ground up.  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). 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 in 2009. 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]