Magic Memory

Andrew Morris

Professional writer and translator. Described by his mother as “a genius” and by everyone else as “that Welsh bloke”.

October 12, 2020

Ah the Interview. A key part of the process of how I work together with you — unless you give me such dazzling answers to your questionnaire that I can just make a start and come back to you for minor details.

But in most cases, your answers will raise further questions, and unless I already know you, it’s essential for us to talk, so that I can get a feel for the kind of person you are, and explore your responses in a little more detail. 

However, if we chat for an hour or so, we get through a lot of ideas, as you can imagine. The challenge as an interviewer is how to capture what is said, in the most faithful manner possible. 

We’ve come a long way in terms of technology. Interviewers before my time had to be  excellent note takers, perhaps in shorthand. And of course interviews had to be conducted face to face in the same room, or perhaps down the telephone.

But those glorious pre-internet days were not entirely technology-free. The advent of the tape recorder, which dominated my teenage years, complete with the familiar clunk of cassettes, made it so much easier to record what had been said, at least if you were sitting in the same place as your interviewee. 

Things took another huge leap forward with smaller hand-held voice recorders, fitted with mini-cassettes. Still, you needed a supply of the things, and they were of limited length, but at least they were easier to carry around, and could fit easily in your pocket.

A few years later, the digital revolution meant that voice recorders not only shrank in size, but they could also store virtually unlimited amounts of data, enabling you to store dozens of interviews all within your little gizmo.

But by now of course, thanks to the Internet, you could be interviewing people onscreen anywhere in the world. 

Even more recently, when smartphones came along, you could dispense with a second gadget, and record straight to your phone, with perfect sound quality.

Surely we had reached the absolute pinnacle of ease and convenience? Well, not quite. The problem was that you knew that your interviewee had described an amazing experience with a banana around a third of the way through the interview, but if you wanted to find the exact spot, you had to make an educated guess, and then spend valuable minutes each time rewinding and fast-forwarding until you could locate that particularly 20-second passage. Quieter than with a cassette, but no less time-consuming and frustrating.

But now (drumroll), things have just taken another giant leap forward in this story of amazing technological progress, because a magical app on the iPad called Notability – yours for a mere €14 or so — just thought the unthinkable. Not only can you record the voice of your interlocutor, but the app records the strokes of your pen as you write on the screen, in sync with the voice. 

It is difficult to overestimate how truly splendiferous this is. So your interviewee launches into the banana story, which comes after the unfortunate experience with a pineapple, but of course before the joyous experience with a mango. And you’re listening, taking notes, such as “pineapple”, “banana” and “mango” on your screen, while recording the whole thing. When the interview has finished, all you need to do is rerun the sound file, tap with your pen on the word “banana” on the screen, and the file automatically jumps to the exact moment that you wrote that down, which is of course the exact moment the story was being described… 

So as long as your notes are averagely neat, and sequential, you now have an optimal combination of voice, notes, and easy findability. Check out any of the several YouTubes on the wonders of Notability.

It’s amazing to look back at how the technology has developed just in my lifetime. But who knows where it could go next? What do you think? 

Answers on a postcard… or as a comment!

Over to you

Care to share your thoughts? Head on down to the comment section.

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