How Much is Enough? (2011) from Hong-An Truong on Vimeo.

How Much is Enough?: Interviewing Strangers at the Port Authority (Day 4)

We also started interviewing people down at the Port Authority today with the questions that we had narrowed down from our surveys and brainstorming sessions. We settled on the following:

How much is enough?

What did/do you want to be when you grow up?

How do you imagine the present?

Is competition natural?

Why should we try?

We broke into pairs and went out for the interviews. The answers and the ways in which people answered were fascinating. Some people were hesitant but opened up once they got going. Others were curt, defensive, and unwilling to engage. We were really touched by some of the answers and the people. There was a little old lady who replied to the question about the present- that even at 90, she’s still trying to figure it out! There were a couple of guys from Jamaica that were both curious and extremely suspicious. We all returned to EFA really energized from the entire experience.

Conducting street interviews is such an excellent exercise for so many reasons – not only does it put into perspective, and thus make more real, whatever it is you are thinking about (in this case, the economy, labor, and desire), it is also an humbling experience to candidly approach people and either be embraced or shut down. We felt a bit torn between the kind of vox-pop style questions we had formulated and the desire to want to have longer conversations with people, more Storycorps style. But the questions yielded some interesting and varied responses.

In our case, it was especially useful to connect our project to the public in this small way. While none of our final outcomes engaged public space, doing the interviews partly allowed us to bring the public voice into the project, grounding our concepts in the larger social context. The resulting audio is interesting because while listening to people’s responses without seeing their faces, one can’t help but think of class - connecting the speaker’s own class positions to class aspiration and the value-laden yet abstract notions that are used in the varied responses: terms like “satisfaction” and “happy.”

In our brief conversation following our excursion out to get the interviews, it seemed that everyone felt excited by the interactions. We weren’t surprised by the responses necessarily, but making the briefest connection with people in the public around the ideas that we’ve been discussing really rounded out our conversation.