This project has been percolating for a while. I awoke the day after I returned from Burning Man 2007 with a vision of an interactive listening installation.
Here’s what had inspired The Listening Depot:
1. The Hug Deli. This unattended installation at BM 2007, which looks like a deli counter, invites participants to either don an apron and go behind the counter and serve up hugs or to come up to the counter and place an order. The menu includes the Warm & Fuzzy Hug, the Bear Hug, and the Uncomfortably Long Hug. Side orders include a Pinch, a Kiss, a Tickle, a Nose-to-Nose Rub, and a Back Scratch. I had hoped to dish out some hugs, but when I was there, two young women had taken over the aprons and were enthusiastically serving; they were having so much fun that I just couldn’t butt in.
2. The stories we heard at our “Snowballs Chance in Hell” theme camp. The deal was, We’d give you a solar-powered snow-cone if you would confess a sin. We heard all kinds of amazing sins, and folks clearly appreciated having a venue in which to spill their guts.
3. The Costco Soulmate Trading Outlet. This long-standing Burning Man theme camp is “Black Rock City’s leading supplier of high-quality, low-cost soulmates.” Their appropriation of a big-box retailers identity partially inspired the “Depot” part of the name (think Office Depot or Home Depot).
4. The Story Corps project. This NPR oral-history project puts pairs of people – friends, family, etc. – in a booth and records them interviewing each other.
5. Conversation Cafes. I was lucky to be included in Vicki Robin’s original 2001 experiment with this community conversation format and have thought often since about how powerful and inspirational it can be to gather with the intention of deeply listening to others.
6. Hushville, the theme camp where we pitched our camp at Burning Man 2007, which does its best to let you hear yourself think amid all the techno music and fire-breathing art cars. Three simple rules for camping there: no generators, no amplified music, and leave no trace.
Put all of those inspirations together, add a little playa dust, a long road trip back to Seattle with a creative, playful friend, and one good night’s sleep back home in my own bed, and out came The Listening Depot.