The many individuals we meet on a daily basis often have far more of an impact on our lives than many of us can readily recognise. This was the realisation that lead Ian Kath to start Your Story – a collection of podcasts recorded by people all over the world; each one recounting a certain story that shaped their lives in some way. Since 2007, Ian has been hosting Your Story, and has invited over 65 people to each tell his audience a story central to their lives in some way. He has recently followed up this project with an online guide – Create Your Life Story – to telling one’s life story in an engaging and appealing way, and broadcasting it using various different digital media. Ian recently became a member of betahaus, and hopes to eventually be based in Berlin.
First of all: what exactly are Your Story and Create Your Story, and how did they start?
Your Story started when I discovered podcasting about five years ago, and wanting to further explore the world of digital media and recording. I had no training or background – I knew nothing about computers back then. Once I discovered podcasting, I decided to create a podcast about the stories other people. My first podcast involved me recording my 90 year old uncle about his participation in WW2. I found the experience of recording his story to be so exciting that I thought I would teach this to other people. From that came a second podcast in May 2010, called Create Your Life Story, which is about helping others document life stories – either their own or those of others. I’m teaching people how to interview, how to tell a story, how to use digital media, how to write a blog – all those sorts of things.
What about Your Story – a podcast that, essentially, features a different story about anything from a different person – appeals to you, or to your audiences?
For me, the reason is simple – I just love to find out about what people are up to – it’s what I naturally want to do. What I’m doing is taking that a little bit further by presenting it in the form of a podcast. I also find that people are fundamentally interested in the stories of others – it’s why gossip is so popular. In a way, Your Story is a form of live-journaling one’s daily life. Of course, many people keep journals – that’s been around for a while. However, journals and other autobiographical pieces are often created after the fact, as a static picture of a person’s life. Nowadays, thanks to the many forms of technology available, it is possible to create, essentially, a live documentation of your daily life, whether it be through a Twitter feed, a Flickr account, or through a podcast. And people are interested in reading and finding these things out. That’s one of the reasons I even started Create Your Life Story – as a resource for those looking to create a real-time journal of their lives using various new forms of technology.
How do you go about collecting stories? What kinds of people are the most willing to give their stories, and what are they most willing to talk about?
I usually find cafés and spaces like that are the best places where I can approach people who seem interesting to me. I’ve found that I usually meet two types of people. There are those who are relatively extroverted, and who are willing to talk to me – if I ask them a question, they’re off. Then there are those who may have a good story, but who avoid me, even if they say they’re interested in giving their stories. I think that, in the second group, these people may not be quite sure of themselves, or of their ability to express themselves – many people have never even heard the sound of their own voice being played back! Generally, I’m after people who are keen to share their opinions and stories.
I like to find people who have a little bit of tension in their lives – essentially, someone who isn’t quite what they say they are, or as they appear to be, such as a young woman I had spoken to who had retired from prostitution at the age of 20.
I usually expect three things of anyone I interview: that they are intelligent, articulate, and passionate. What I’ve discovered is that, if they are passionate, the other two tend to come naturally. Even when you’re speaking to someone who isn’t particularly well-educated, or to someone who stumbles over their words – if you start talking to them about what they are passionate about, it’s amazing how well they speak, and it’s amazing how much they know. Even if it’s about something simple, such as knitting, or cooking their favourite meal, they will open up.
I’m currently visiting Berlin because I’m looking for a place where I can base myself and my project. So far, Berlin is the best place I could find for this, because of the creative scene, of Silicon Allee, of everything that’s happening around me. I also chose betahaus because it’s a bit of a hub – there are many people I can meet here, and that is my priority. I can work with what I do anywhere in the world, as long as I have a laptop and an internet connection, but meeting people is difficult to do when I’m by myself at home. So far I’m still trying to lay the groundwork for interviews here in Berlin. I’ve already got two people scheduled to be interviewed, and a couple planning to do one as well.
What are your further plans for the Create Your Life Story/Your Story?
I’m in Berlin until the 25th of March, though I would love to come back soon. I would especially love to come back if I have an idea of how to make things more commercially-viable for my projects. I want to meet people with whom I can connect, who can inspire me to make whatever I’m doing more viable commercially. Unlike in Australia, there is a bigger concentration of people here in Europe, especially in Berlin, and that’s what I like. But I have to make hay while the sun shines – in the few weeks I have left here, I plan on going to any event that I can, and meeting anyone I can. Hopefully I will meet the right people who can stimulate me to go somewhere with the projects that I’m working on. That’s why I’m here.