It’s been a while since I got excited about a new app but today’s news about Detour got the old wheels spinning again as I dug in to learn more about it and started thinking about the potential it unlocks . But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Andrew’s personal blog post about the genesis of Detour is more interesting. The combination of audio as a soundtrack to the physical world has always fascinated me. Ever since I got my first Sony Walkman, I would imagine songs that went with certain bike rides. Every time I hear The Sundays I think of my ride through the rice fields of Shikoku and certain Pearl Jam tracks remind me of epic back country snowboarding runs in Hokkaido.
Back when podcasting started to be a thing, I stumbled across Richard Miller’s excellent Sparkletack series that effectively transported you back in time to old San Francisco. His story about Italian soprano Luisa Tetrazzini belting out an aria to the huddled, post-earthquake masses on Market Street to lift their spirits is storytelling elevated to a fine art.
I even made a few crude attempts at storytelling using Moby’s Stella Maris as a soundtrack to an album of photos from two years in Finland and, more recently, juxtaposing old photos of streetcars in Alameda against more recent photos as method of time travel.
The potential of using portable audio to tell a story has been around for a while. Museums often give out audio handsets to tell the story behind their exhibits. I read once of an activist group that published an hour long podcast that navigated you through a Wal-Mart (each store’s layout is conveniently the same) and told the story about the factories where each of their popular clothes lines were manufactured. The impact of such audio tours can be quite powerful.
Detour looks to be a publishing platform that puts this kind of storytelling within grasp of anyone. The stories will be curated to keep the quality high and, in the interviews, Andrew talks about making each tour available for purchase which will allow composers to get paid for their work. The output looks slick.
What gets me really excited is that after digging around their wiki you can see that some real thought has gone into guiding people on how to create high quality tours.
Move them around a bit – tell them to stand in different locations in the same 50 foot area. Point out different things to look at and do. (eg – Don’t ask your listeners to stand in front of the Arbol de Tule, while you describe it. Ask them to walk around it. Draw their attention to different aspects.)
There are references in the wiki to Descript, the authoring platform for Detour, which helps set the pacing for the tours. I’m on the wait list for the app and hope to get an invite soon so I can experience a few of these tours but I already know that I’m going to enjoy it and can’t wait to get involved.
Author Michael Lewis (Moneyball, Liar’s Poker) sits in on an episode of This American Life and tells a wonderful story of Emir Kamenica, a refugee from the Serbian conflict, who, in his own words, caught a lucky break by meeting an “angel” who encouraged him to transfer from the greater Atlanta public school to an exclusive private school where he was awarded a scholarship that led to Harvard and University of Chicago Business School where he teaches today.
As Emir tells it, it was blind luck that got him there. As we learn later, it wasn’t luck, he was a talented hard worker already and probably would have ended up where he is regardless. Despite the probable or actual outcomes, Michael’s story is about your state of mind and how the way you face opportunity (and challenges) is such an important contributor to your overall demeanor. Here’s Michael:
There is no obvious connection between a person’s happiness and the way he tells stories about himself. But I think there’s a not-so-obvious one. When you insist, the way that Emir does, that you’re both lucky and indebted to other people, well, you’re sort of prepared to see life as a happy accident, aren’t you?
It’s just very different than if you tell yourself that you simply deserve all the good stuff that happens to you. Because you happened to be born a genius or suffered so much or worked so hard– that way of telling the story– well, it’s what you hear from every miserable bond trader at Goldman Sachs, or for that matter, every other a-hole who ever walked the earth.
When I traveled through Italy I remember thinking the Italians, with all their quirky infrastructure, never seemed too unhappy about it. They collected their trials and tribulations little mementos that they could bring out and share with friends and strangers. I met someone on a train and we had a horrible time that day as the train was continually delayed and it took us forever to get where we wanted to go. We passed the time playing cards and telling stories and I remember how cheery he was – he never let the delays get him down. After one particularly outlandish excuse for further delay (everyone suspected the relief conductor was sleeping in) my travel companion said, “at least this will make a good story!”
Listen for yourself – it’s a great story, starts at around 10 minutes in.
How I Got Into College