Story Snacks

Final story snack object with easy flap-based sound activation
Docking station
A collection of story snacks
Various arrangement options depending on the listening context
User testing

– Testing tilt-based sound activation

We live in an age where information recording and access are fairly easy, ubiquitous, and individual, but thoughtful, prolonged, and “slow” consumption is not. A big question oral history archivers face today is: what can they do with the hours and hours of audio interviews which carry in their data bits numerous details and nuances? In this project, fellow PhD students Neta Tamir and Andrea Cuadra and I ask: how can we make listening to oral histories a reflective social activity? What does it take to sit down and really listen to a life story? And how can we make the listening experience both fast so that it is accessible and interesting to the masses yet slow and meaningful at the same time? To answer these questions, we explored different flavors of listening experiences: fast (3-4 minutes), slow (an hour), individually, in a group, and while walking and listening. We also attended oral history listening events at public NYC institutions, reflected on data from an oral history collection initiative we ran at a local middle school, attended poetry reading, conducted interviews with oral history experts, and built and tested several listening  prototypes.

After these explorations, we converged on the concept of Story Snacks: tangible non-smart objects for listening. Unlike tablets, smart phones, and voice agents, our story snacks are constrained and do not claim nor attempt to do more than many things. In fact, they only do three things. The first is to play an excerpt of the story when held to the listener’s ear. The second is to provide an audio jack for playing the full story through a speaker (public listening) or headphones (private listening). Third, is to give clues about the story’s length and genre (or other qualities) through the object’s color and size.

In our design, each story corresponds to one object, and the object provides no visual cues about the storyteller, leaving it up to the listener to imagine what the storyteller looks like. They replace other multimedia devices where a popping notification is enough to derail one’s attention. They are like cassettes and CDs but play on their own, and offer a taste of the story before the listener commits. Therefore, they are as easy and fun to “consume” as a snack.

Image Credits: Neta Tamir