There was some point, I think it was a couple of years ago, when I was away from home, in unfamiliar hostel and hotel beds, on long road journeys and cold cobbled streets, that my comfort was headphones and downloaded episodes of Short Cuts and Don’t Log Off.
Both programmes had whistling white noise and various voices coming in and out, that reflected the whistling of unfamiliar winds and voices around me. Short Cuts has these because of the soundscapes and style of it’s programming, and Don’t Log Off because of the internet phone calls being recorded. The break and stutter of Skype conversations, accounts of heat, of cold, of war zones and curfews, all brought to us along with the steadying voice of Alan Dein.
I really love Alan Dein’s work. I was lucky enough to see him in a Q&A session about the fantastic show ‘Wot No Fish’ with its creator, Danny Braverman – go and see that show if you get the chance, it’s fantastic. I got my family-in-law to go, and earned myself about a million brownie points, because of how much they enjoyed it.
I also saw Alan Dein speak at a conference last winter, talking about his work, including a previous programme, Don’t Hang Up where he rang a phone box at various times of day and night, and recorded the conversations he had with those strangers that stopped and answered it. I can’t wait to work my way through listening to Don’t Hang Up. I feel like I’m saving it and savouring it for a time when I can truly stop and listen.
Don’t Log Off is a modern re-imagining of the same idea; phone a stranger, this time via the internet, with no prior research or organisation, follow the conversation wherever it goes and record what happens. Now on it’s sixth series, it sometimes returns to people, following their lives and the outcome of the situations where Alan Dein first discovered them.
Aided by differences in time-zones, the frame of mind it takes to see an invitation for a conversation from an internet radio stranger, thousands of miles away and accept, plus the deft, interested, delicate questions from Alan Dein, the resultant conversations are fascinating.
Whether it’s the bravado of the late night poker player, the insomnia of the widowed and grieving, or the desire to escape from an oppressive regime or small village life, there are many reasons that people find themselves wanting to talk to stranger. They are all laid out and heard on Don’t Log Off.
Dein has a great ability to take people from the heavily worn path of how they talk about their lives – the way you’re used to describing yourself or your day – and beginning them with the view from their window or a similar question, that not only gives the listener some context, but guides each person into talking about how they’ve arrived at where they are, and the experience of being there. I imagine that Brandon from Humans of New York has a similar talent
The programme is also skilful in how it weaves stories and voices together, highlighting the themes of conversations and experiences across the globe. You can follow some stories across different series; one of the reasons I was excited to hear Dein speak last winter, was the possibility of discovering how Bryan and Anna were – a couple who began their relationship purely through the medium of google translate.