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Connecting While Apart: StoryCorp Launches New Remote Platform


Connecting is more important than ever, more vital in times of isolation. StoryCorps has a new platform that allows people to connect and share stories even while they're apart.

TOBEY: How has living through the experience of COVID-19 made you feel?

JANE ISAY: It's terrible. I hate being alone.

SIMON: That's young Tobey Isay talking to his grandmother, Jane Isay, using StoryCorps Connect. Tobey's father, of course, is the founder of StoryCorps, David Isay, and he joins us from his home in Brooklyn. Dave, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVID ISAY: Scott, thanks for having me on.

SIMON: How does this work?

D ISAY: Well, as you know, StoryCorps for 16 years has been about two people sitting in a booth, looking each other in the eye, and asking the important questions of life of each other and that interview going to the Library of Congress. So kind of collecting the wisdom of humanity. And about a month ago when the pandemic hit, we realized that that was not going to work anymore. So our team got together very quickly and created this new platform, which is kind of a special video chat platform that makes it possible for you to safely, by video chat, do a StoryCorps interview with a loved one. It walks you through the entire process. And at the end, you hit a button, and it goes to the Library of Congress.

SIMON: And a time to have these conversations in which having these conversations might be more important than ever.

D ISAY: Yeah, I mean, before the pandemic, when we were out and about in the world, there wasn't a day that passed where someone didn't come up to me and say, I wish I had interviewed my brother. I wish I had interviewed my mom. I wish I'd interviewed my grandmother. But I waited too long. And, you know, I think that what we're going through now is a reminder, you know, not to wait.

SIMON: We want to play a little more of the exchange between Tobey and your mother.

ISAY: My grandmother died in the flu epidemic of 1918, which we're thinking a lot about because we're in a pandemic, right? And my mother and her sisters - they were all orphans.

SIMON: So this is family history there that's part of the shared history of the world. And, Dave, I hear that Tobey, who's 11, has been sick himself. Here's an exchange about that.

ISAY: Are you feeling better now? Are you all better?

TOBEY: No, I'm not all better, but I'm feeling better.

ISAY: Good. I'm so glad you're feeling better. I want you to be well. And I love you from A to Z and back.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. Love you from A to Z and back. How is Tobey?

D ISAY: He's my tough little guy. He's hanging in. He had his - finally was able to get a COVID test yesterday. And it's a little bit, you know, unpleasant. But he's hanging tough. He's a great kid.

SIMON: What do you think both Tobey and your mother take away from their conversation together?

D ISAY: One of the things about StoryCorps interviews is that - well, there's kind of two things that always happen. One is that you learn things that you never knew before. And Tobey, you know, didn't - hadn't talked to his grandmother about her grandmother and the history there. And it's also - you know, it's a chance to say the things to a loved one that you've always wanted to say but sometimes you just can't say. And, you know, and I think that the bottom line with all of these interviews is that you don't regret it. You know, he's a kid. He's 11. Thirteen is really the age you're supposed to be officially to do these interviews. And, you know, he's got a little bit of a tough exterior, but I think that having the chance to be with his grandmother in that way was really important for him and incredibly important for his grandmother. You know, I think a lot of what we're thinking about with StoryCorps Connect is, you know, social isolation and loneliness and, you know, giving people the chance to have this really meaningful connection at this time when we're not face to face with loved ones.

SIMON: So this recording, among - with all the others, will be in the Library of Congress, right?

D ISAY: Exactly, yes. So it's both, I think, important that future generations, that Tobey's great-great-grandkids will get to know his grandmother in that way but also, you know, as your old friend Studs Terkel used to talk about, bottom-up history.

SIMON: Yeah.

D ISAY: You know, this is the history of this moment through the words and feelings and thoughts and wisdom of the people who are living through it, the everyday people.

SIMON: Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps. And you can record conversations with your loved ones on the StoryCorps website. Dave, thanks so much.

D ISAY: Thanks, Scott. It's great to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.