By Jack Rubinger

Jocelyn Brady lives in SE Portland. She works from home running a small business called Scribe which is a voice and language consultancy. She likes to say that she helps people improve thinking and experience more joy through language. She’s studied applied neuroscience and just become a certified Brain-Based coach.

All of this ties into Curious Ear. Brady explained that Curious Ear is a dramatic way to capture stories through a large ear and a large mouth.

“We want Curious Ear to build understanding and empathy, bring people closer together, and inspire compassionate action,” she said.

“The idea is around breaking down barriers that create a culture of fear and mistrust between groups of people who don’t otherwise interact and erase the divisiveness between cultures and classes and ideologies.”

How do the giant ear and mouth work?

Simply: as someone approaches the ear, they can see housed inside is a screen, inviting them to interact. The screen is a tablet, which is running an application that walks the user through an explanation of what the project is, and a series of prompts, such as “describe your first memory” or “tell me something you wish you had told someone else.”

The tablet is hooked up to a microphone, which pokes through a tunnel of the ear. The application then gives the user the option of hitting “record.”

When the user records something into the application, it gets uploaded via wifi to a server — at which point the ear application displays it in a list of recent recordings. The Curious Ear team is able to see the recordings online, and can select certain recordings to be featured on curiousear.com.

This post was recorded right after the Presidential election:

“Hello to someone across the world. I want you to know that even though you may look outside your window and not see the ideal world you’d like to live in, we are all in this together. We are all humans together. And if we all come together to fight for what is right for us as a people, we can all make it. Hold on. Keep your head up. There are people that love you.”

Co-founder Travis Abels said, “This project is all about inspiring new connections — creating portals across invisible boundaries that enable folks to hear a voice from outside their everyday circles.

“I think too often we get stuck in the cycle of only listening to people who are similar to us — who share our same background, opinions, sense of humor, or political ideas. If we can open ourselves up to truly listening to folks outside of that realm, our perspective will continue to grow, and with it, our empathy.

“When we come across someone who needs help, or an ear to lend, we can act less from a place of fear, and more from a place of love. We can lend a hand, or start a conversation, and make more friends out of strangers.”

So how do people react to the giant ear and mouth?

“So far it really depends on the environment the structures are in,” said Abels. “Most recently, we had the ear and mouth at an art event called Spaceness, in Seaview Washington, and people really gravitated towards it. It’s so fun to see someone walking by, notice the ear, and walk up to examine it.

“After they consider the prompts, nearly everyone grabs hold of the ear, and leans in close to speak to it, which is actually quite an intimate experience, as we rarely get that close to someone’s ear when speaking, unless they’re someone we know closely, or are telling a secret to.”

What does the future hold for Curious Ear?

Right now, it has a proof of concept, but is only the beginning. It’s an ear that listens and a mouth that speaks. Eventually, the team would love to have dozens of portals all over Portland that do more than just listen and speak.

Abels explained, “I’d like them to be able to connect live, with big blinking lights above them, indicating when someone is on the line, in another part of the city. You might be walking home at night, see a light blinking above an old phone booth, and once inside, discover that someone on the other end is telling a story.

“It prompts you to stop what you’re doing and listen, then share a story of your own with them. Maybe you make a connection, and decide to meet up, by going to their part of town. Maybe it encourages a young kid to visit someone at a nursing home or someone at a hotel to visit a homeless shelter.”

This project began in SE Portland, but Curious Ear aims to grow and spread far beyond just this city, connecting urban areas with rural, blue states, with red states, and young countries with old.

One idea would be to incorporate other means of communication that don’t rely just on audio — big eyes that visually connect places in different parts of the world: a school in Casablanca with a school in Indianapolis, for instance.

This writer is planning a Curious Ear/Friendship Health Center collaboration around Easter which is a family affair at Friendship.

Brady, Abels, co-founder Dimitrii Pokrovskii and the team (Jason Swetzoff, Matt Boroweic, Keenan Wells, and Marc Girouard) all share a love for the outdoors, technology, theater, comedy and communication. The project is funded out of pocket and costs for tablets and other tools continue to grow. If you’d like to suggest a collaboration or source for funding, contact curiousear.com.