The power of the microphone

Recently I had to do an audio report about an unpopular part of the country’s history. I wanted to go around and ask random people to get some vox pops (voices of the people). I was hoping to get them say that they don’t know. I would use this as an opener for the report and then start to explain why people don’t know.

I am very uncomfortable with approaching people and asking them questions to be recorded. I don’t like myself being asked in that way. I prefer to sit in front of the laptop and anonymously produce some writing and whoever wants to may read it later, but it’s their own decision. So I had a big constraint inside me, like a wall that I had to break through in order to go up to people and hold the microphone into their faces. But I forced myself to do it because I had to do the report and I wanted to overcome that wall inside me.

I borrowed the microphone and started recording on the spot at university, so that I disabled myself from procrastinating it any further. And guess what, it went really well! I got all the answers that I wanted, that is, people saying that they had no idea. I mostly approached students who were sitting or standing somewhere, or walking really slowly; those who were obviously not in a hurry and who couldn’t escape me, my mic and the question. So it was actually very easy and done in less than fifteen minutes.

It is amazing what power you have if you are behind the microphone, if you are the person to hold the mic towards someone and ask them some questions. They are very insecure in that moment. I put them in an exposed situation. First of all there is the surprise of a foreigner approaching them which they are not prepared for. Then the question, which, besides, is asked in another language than their mother tongue. It gave me power over them. That made them almost obedient, vulnerably compliant to answer my questions.

Then I also wanted to get the voices of people out of university. I cycled back to town, sparked by the spirit of my little success, because I had not only gotten what I wanted for the report, but I also had overcome that wall inside of me and the last few minutes it had even been fun.

Asking people in town turned out to be incredibly difficult, though. After the success with the students this was a totally different story. People were walking in town, they didn’t sit or stand around like at university. They had their directions, their ways, their things to do, their destinations. Therefore approaching them was freaking hard. I tried four times and all I got was No, I don’t answer questions. Or I’m in a hurry. Or I don’t speak English. Or just a look through me and no reaction. My power was gone. The reaction to the microphone was refusal, not obedience. I was not successful at all in town and decided to leave it like that.

I don’t really know the difference. Is it the age? Or the language? Or is it because they were walking and they had their own things in their heads so that they could escape more easily than students who were sitting down or strolling around?

In case I have to collect vox pops again I might stick to students. However, plunging into that big challenge of getting the voices of the town people might be a great exercise to overcome that dislike of asking random people for their opinion.

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