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Every presentation needs this slide in it. (Laughter) It's beautiful, isn't it? Do you see? All the points, all the lines -- it's incredible. It is the network; and in my case, the network has been important in media, because I get to connect to people. Isn't it amazing? Through that, I connect to people. And the way that I've been doing it has been multifaceted. For example, I get people to dress up their vacuum cleaners. (Laughter) I put together projects like Earth Sandwich, where I ask people to try and simultaneously place two pieces of bread perfectly opposite each other on the Earth. And people started laying bread in tribute, and eventually a team was able to do it between New Zealand and Spain. It's pretty incredible -- the video's online. Connecting to people in projects like YoungmeNowme for example. In YoungmeNowme, the audience was asked to find a childhood photograph of themselves and restage it as an adult. (Laughter) This is the same person -- top photo, James, bottom photo, [Jennifer]. Poignant. This was a Mother's Day gift. (Laughter) Particularly creepy. (Applause) (Laughter) My favorite of these photos, which I couldn't find, is there's a picture of a 30 year-old woman or so with a little baby on her lap, and the next photo is a 220-lb man with a tiny, little old lady peaking over his shoulder.
But this project changed the way that I thought about connecting to people. This is project called Ray. And what happened was I was sent this piece of audio and had no idea who generated the audio. Somebody said, "You have to listen to this." And this is what came to me.
Recording: Hi, my name is Ray, and on yesterday my daughter called me because she was stressed out because of things that were going on on her job that she felt was quite unfair. Being quite disturbed, she called for comfort, and I didn't really know what to tell her, because we have to deal with so much mess in our society. So I was led to write this song just for her, just to give her some encouragement while dealing with stress and pressures on her job. And I figured I'd put it on the Internet for all employees under stress to help you better deal with what you're going through on your job. Here's how the song goes.
Now you might not be able to sing that out loud, but you can hum it to yourself, and you know what the words are. And let it give you some strength to get the next few moments on your job. All right. Stay strong. Peace.
Ze Frank: So -- yeah. No, no, no, shush. We've got to go quickly. So I was so moved by this -- this is incredible. This was connecting, right. This was, at a distance, realizing that someone was feeling something, wanting to affect them in a particular way, using media to do it, putting it online and realizing that there was a greater impact. This was incredible; this is what I wanted to do. So the first thing I thought of is we have to thank him. And I asked my audience, I said, "Listen to this piece of audio. We have to remix it. He's got a great voice. It's actually in the key of B flat. And have to do something with it." Hundreds of remixes came back -- lots of different attempts. One stood out in particular. It was done by a guy named Goose.
ZF: Great, so it was incredible. That song -- (Applause) Thank you. So that song, somebody told me that it was at a baseball game in Kansas City. In the end, it was one of the top downloads on a whole bunch of music streaming services. And so I said, "Let's put this together in an album." And the audience came together, and they designed an album cover. And I said, "If you put it all on this, I'm going to deliver it to him, if you can figure out who this person is," because all I had was his name -- Ray -- and this little piece of audio and the fact that his daughter was upset. In two weeks, they found him. I received and email and it said, "Hi, I'm Ray. I heard you were looking for me." (Laughter) And I was like, "Yeah, Ray. It's been an interesting two weeks." And so I flew to St. Louis and met Ray, and he's a preacher -- (Laughter) among other things.
So but anyways, here's the thing -- is it reminds me of this, which is a sign that you see in Amsterdam on every street corner. And it's sort of a metaphor for me for the virtual world. I look at this photo, and he seems really interested in what's going on with that button, but it doesn't seem like he is really that interested in crossing the street. (Laughter) And it makes me think of this. On street corners everywhere, people are looking at their cell phones, and it's easy to dismiss this as some sort of bad trend in human culture. But the truth is life is being lived there. When they smile -- right, you've seen people stop -- all of a sudden, life is being lived there, somewhere up in that weird, dense network. And this is it, right, to feel and be felt. It's the fundamental force that we're all after. We can build all sorts of environments to make it a little bit easier, but ultimately, what we're trying to do is really connect with one other person. And that's not always going to happen in physical spaces. It's also going to now happen in virtual spaces, and we have to get better at figuring that out. I think, of the people that build all this technology in the network, a lot of them aren't very good at connecting with people. This is kind of like something I used to do in third grade.
So here's a series of projects over the last few years where I've been inspired by trying to figure out how to really facilitate close connection. Sometimes they're very, very simple things. A Childhood Walk, which is a project where I ask people to remember a walk that they used to take as a child over and over again that was sort of meaningless -- like on the route to the bus stop, to a neighbor's house, and take it inside of Google Streetview. And I promise you, if you take that walk inside Google Streetview, you come to a moment where something comes back and hits you in the face. And I collected those moments -- the photos inside Google Streetview and the memories, specifically. "Our conversation started with me saying, 'I'm bored,' and her replying, 'When I'm bored I eat pretzels.' I remember this distinctly because it came up a lot." "Right after he told me and my brother he was going to be separating from my mom, I remember walking to a convenience store and getting a cherry cola." "They used some of the morbidly artist footage, a close-up of Chad's shoes in the middle of the highway. I guess the shoes came off when he was hit. He slept over at my house once, and he left his pillow. It had 'Chad' written in magic marker on it. He died long after he left the pillow at my house, but we never got around to returning it."
Sometimes they're a little bit more abstract. This is Pain Pack. Right after September 11th, last year, I was thinking about pain and the way that we disperse it, the way that we excise it from our bodies. So what I did is I opened up a hotline -- a hotline where people could leave voicemails of their pain, not necessarily related to that event. And people called in and left messages like this.
Recording: Okay, here's something. I'm not alone, and I am loved. I'm really fortunate. But sometimes I feel really lonely. And when I feel that way even the smallest act of kindness can make me cry. Like even people in convenience stores saying, "Have a nice day," when they're accidentally looking me in the eye.
ZF: So what I did was I took those voicemails, and with their permission, converted them to MP3s and distributed them to sound editors who created short sounds using just those voicemails. And those were then distributed to DJs who have made hundreds of songs using that source material. (Music) We don't have time to play much of it. You can look at it online.
"From 52 to 48 with love" was a project around the time of the last election cycle, where McCain and Obama both, in their speeches after the election, talked about reconciliation, and I was like, "What the hell does that look like?" So I thought, "Well let's just give it a try. Let's have people hold up signs about reconciliation." And so some really nice things came together. "I voted blue. I voted red. Together, for our future." These are very, very cute little things right. Some came from the winning party. "Dear 48, I promise to listen to you, to fight for you, to respect you always." Some came from the party who had just lost. "From a 48 to a 52, may your party's leadership be as classy as you, but I doubt it." But the truth was that as this start becoming popular, a couple rightwing blogs and some message boards apparently found it to be a little patronizing, which I could also see. And so I started getting amazing amounts of hate mail, death threats even. And one guy in particular kept on writing me these pretty awful messages, and he was dressed as Batman. And he said, "I'm dressed as Batman to hide my identity." Just in case I thought the real Batman was coming after me; which actually made me feel a little better -- like, "Phew, it's not him."
So what I did -- unfortunately, I was harboring all this kind of awful experience and this pain inside of me, and it started to eat away at my psyche. And I was protecting the project from it, I realized. I was protecting it -- I didn't want this special, little group of photographs to get sullied in some way. So what I did, I took all those emails, and I put them together into something called Angrigami, which was an origami template made out of this sort of vile stuff. And I asked people to send me beautiful things made out of the Angrigami. (Laughter) But this was the emotional moment. One of my viewer's uncles died on a particular day and he chose to commemorate it with a piece of hate. It's amazing.
The last thing I'm going to tell you about is a series of projects called Songs You Already Know, where the idea was, I was trying to figure out to address particular kinds of emotions with group projects. So one of them was fairly straightforward. A guy said that his daughter got scared at night and could I write a song for her, his daughter. And I said, "Oh yeah, I'll try to write a mantra that she can sing to herself to help herself go to sleep." And this was "Scared."
Okay, so I wrote that song, right. Thank you. So the nice thing was is he walked by his daughter's room at some point, and she actually was singing that song to herself. So I was like, "Awesome. This is great."
And then I got this email. And there's a little bit of a back story to this. And I don't have much time. But the idea was that at one point I did a project called Facebook Me Equals You, where I wanted to experience what it was like to live as another person. So I asked for people's usernames and passwords to be sent to me. And I got a lot, like 30 in a half an hour. And I shut that part down. And I chose two people to be, and I asked them to send me descriptions of how to act as them on Facebook. One person sent me a very detailed description; the other person didn't. And the person who didn't, it turned out, had just moved to a new city and taken on a new job. So, you know, people were writing me and saying, "How's your new job?" I was like, "I don't know. Didn't know I had one."
But anyway, this same person, Laura, ended up emailing me a little bit after that project. And I felt badly for not having done a good job. And she said, "I'm really anxious, I just moved to a new town, I have this new job, and I've just had this incredible amount of anxiety." So she had seen the "Scared" song and wondered if I could do something. So I asked her, "What does it feel like when you feel this way?" And she wrote a sort of descriptive set of what it felt like to have had this anxiety. And so what I decided to do. I said, "Okay, I'll think about it." And so quietly in the background, I started sending people this.
So I asked people whether they had basic audio capabilities, just so they could sing along to the song with headphones on, so I could just get their voices back. And this is the kind of thing that I got back.
ZF: So that's one of the better ones, really. But what's awesome is, as I started getting more and more and more of them, all of a sudden I had 30, 40 voices from around the world. And when you put them together, something magical happens, something absolutely incredible happens, and all of a sudden I get a chorus from around the world. And what was really great is, I'm putting all this work together in the background, and Laura sent me a follow-up email because a good month had passed by. And she said, "I know you've forgotten about me. I just want to say thanks for even considering it." And then a few days later I sent her this.
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On the web, a new "Friend" may be just a click away, but true connection is harder to find and express. Ze Frank presents a medley of zany Internet toys that require deep participation -- and reward it with something more nourishing. You're invited, if you promise you'll share.
Ze Frank rose to Internet fame in 2001 with his viral video “How to Dance Properly,” and has been making online comedy, web toys and massively shared experiences ever since. Watch his newest: "A Show." Full bio »