The Untold Stories Project: An Update

In the fall Veronica Kirin wrote for HerStory describing her work as an ethnographer and the project she has created called theUntold Stories Project. Since she last wroteVeronica has been traveling around the country interviewing elders about what life was like before technology. It is Veronica's hope to preserve these stories so that future generations will know what life was like before everything was at the tips of their fingers.

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I drove to 40 states during the month of November.  I drove so many miles it took two rental cars due to oil change needs.  Somehow I managed to finish $1k under my Kickstarter budget (thank you ramen noodles).  I met so many people that names and faces began to blur.  Thank god I recorded everything. 

I guess this is what we do for passion.  When there is something we believe in, we will gladly eat ramen noodles and sleep in the car in between meetings.  We’ll drive 13 hours straight in order to make a connection and also eat Thanksgiving with one friend and 24 strangers.  We’ll introduce ourselves to strangers needlessly, except for the need to talk about the mission.

In February of 2015 I started the Untold Stories Project.  I realized that all this talk about society being changed by technology was being written by people who had lived their entire lives with technology.  I’m an Anthropologist - I come at a problem from legacy knowledge.  So I decided to run a Kickstarter (funded in September 2015) and hit the road, interviewing as diverse a population as I could in order to learn from those who have lived through this tech revolution.  The goal of the interviews is a book to break through the noise.  

Everyone I interviewed was born before 1940.  As I hit the road, I didn’t know what to expect.  I was scared, but also really excited, and (like most of us with a mission) really unaware of what I’d gotten myself into.  

As people got wind of the project, I started getting more referrals for interviews.  When I left my home in Michigan on November 2, I didn’t have anyone to interview in Montana.  I started driving West, and by the time I’d been through Wisconsin, I had two women signed up in Missoula - both over 100 years of age.  That kind of thing kept happening.

I interviewed daughters of miners, sons of farmers, Native Americans, carpenters, marriage counselors, former FBI agents, retired spy satellite engineers, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, all really amazing people.  I caught a glimpse into lives I never would have known.  I came face to face with the fact that, while I believe myself to be well-read and educated, I know so little.  

I also sometimes encountered drama; I interviewed a gentleman at a retirement community, and was told by the woman scheduled after him that he’s a chauvinist.  This was a lesson in truths - the truth of someone being interviewed may be different than the truth of their gut reactions.  But we have to trust the process in order to get anywhere, otherwise Anthropology, Psychology, and Sociology would have a hard time succeeding.

Today I write amid a rainy Spring day in Grand Rapids.  Last week I was interviewed by a Business Journal about the progress of the book.  This week I spoke with a marketing guru who specializes in books and authors.  I also launched a pilot program so that families can interview their elders and the diversity of the project may continue to grow though I no longer can travel at that break-neck speed.  

As for the book, it’s coming along.  The chapters will be based off recurring themes I noticed during the interviews - I aggregated them on the Stats page of the website for the curious.  Writing is a long road, publishing an even longer one.  If you want to stay informed on the project, sign up on the website.  My updates are sporadic, but they do happen! 

Last, but not least, if you want a hand in naming the book, head over to the contact form on the site.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Thank you for your support!

-Veronica Kirin