Reflections on Puzzling Through a Massive Media Project

“This is not about being polished on camera. It’s about puzzling through.” — M.E. Luka (from an iDoc interview in 2017)

iDoc has completed approximately 103 interviews with Future Energy Systems researchers, City of Edmonton employees, artists, and activists. We’re now transitioning to another stage in the project where we’re processing all of the interview data — coding, transcribing, and editing — for the open access archive (soon to be launched with the University of Alberta Library).

My name is Dani, and I’m the Research Coordinator for Just Powers. I’m part of the team managing iDoc’s “wrap-up” stage. But in a significant way, iDoc isn’t really ending…it’s just beginning! It’s been my privilege to sit with all 103 interviews, listening and watching them over and over (and over) again. I am excited for you to be able to access all of our footage, and to join me in thinking through their connections, the knowledge they share, and what they produce in and among us. Maybe these interviews will be the starting point for your own work, or a shift in your thinking.

As a Research Coordinator, I often feel like a computer, sorting through terrabytes of data and organizing them into patterns that make sense to me. My job also requires thinking through how to best communicate the information we’ve collected. But here’s the problem: Each of our interviews are somewhere between 30 and 90 minutes. We have transcripts, of course, but they require a significant amount of time to process. For you to process, even beyond the metadata and coding and organization. You must sit with these interviews, hold them in context, and try to see between the lines.

[We must especially understand that these interviews only reflect an instantaneous viewpoint. It’s hard to be on-camera. It requires a different communication strategy, a different way of connecting and making conversation. After I was interviewed for the project, I understood this so much more: What I say is always contextual — in and of the moment — so a recorded interview separates my words from their context. Simple things like hunger or thirst can impact the tone someone uses, or the words they choose. So I urge you to receive these interviews generously, with intentional openness and kindness.]

But here’s the thing: We also process these interviews with the intention of using them for teaching and sparking conversation in time-limited situations (a university class, for example). After going over all the transcripts, I’ve been interested in the way  I focus on “sound bites” as a result. I’ve been re-made as a human computer, interested in getting interviewees to condense their words and thoughts into what I know will be a more consumable “clip.” Clips are useful for time-limited encounters, quickly communicating the essence of a much longer interview or clearly espousing a complicated idea. Clips are also an intervention against contemporary distraction, algorithms, and diminishing attention spans. Even in some of our shorter outputs, I can see that people rarely watch our footage to the end. But, by picking “clips” or encouraging participants to say things that will make good “clips,” I am computing and extracting interviewee information in a very particular way. In the process, I’m also trying to conserve money, reducing the amount of time that our editors will need to spend on each interview, adhering to deadlines, and generally appeasing the bureaucratic systems of the neoliberal university structure. Whew!

Puzzling through, indeed. I don’t think there’s any clear answers here, but I hope we can keep thinking through this experiment as we continue processing and moving through this next stage in the project.

— Dani Jorgensen-Skakum