Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Culture Lesson: Human Microphone

The Occupy Wall Street protests, which originated in New York City in September, and may or may not have ended by now (I write these posts in advance), have used a variety of tactics in communicating a variety of messages.

One of these techniques has been the Human Microphone. It's a technology free way to disperse a speech to a large crowd.

What is the Human Microphone? Allow me to explain! This is what happens: A man or woman stands in front of an attentive crowd. He or she shouts, "Mic check!" This signals that the man or woman has something to say. When the crowd responds, "Mic check!" the man or woman knows that he or she has the crowd's attention.

He or she says a short portion of a speech. The section in front of the man or woman, the first group within hearing distance, repeats the speech. A section behind those people repeat it. That bit is repeated, echoed, to the back of the crowd. It's like a round: the speaker does not wait for the stragglers in the back to receive the opening of the speech to continue. (That may take forever.) The speaker waits for the section of people in the front to finish and then continues. This process will go on until the speaker is finished.

This is a speech using the Human Microphone, as posted by New York Magazine:

For measure, here's NYM on the process:
Rather than using an agreed-upon Twitter hashtag, bullhorn, or sound system (the latter two require permits from the city) the group is using a "human microphone" technique: simply shouting back the words of the speaker so the rest of the group can hear. As you might expect, the message can get a bit garbled, and basic sentences (AND BASIC SENTENCES!) can take three times as long (CAN TAKE THREE TIMES AS LONG!) to complete (TO COMPLETE!).

So, why is a group largely organized via technology relying on lungpower to make a speech? Because one requires a permit for a bullhorn. (And a permit was supposedly issued! But the noise level was too loud. I'm still trying to verify that.) From The Nation, which also explains the fine details of camping in Zuccotti Park:
The thing is—there's no microphone. New York City requires a permit for “amplified sound” in public, something that the pointedly unpermitted Occupy Wall Street lacks. This means that microphones and speakers are banned from Liberty Plaza, and the NYPD has also been interpreting the law to include battery-powered bullhorns. Violators can be sentenced for up to thirty days in prison. Further complicating the matter is the fact that Liberty Plaza is not actually a public park. It’s privately owned by Brookfield Office Properties, landlords to Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, and in addition to amplified sound, they’ve also sought to ban sleeping bags, tents and other equipment from what they call “Zuccotti Park.”

Additional Resources:
Video: A Brief Lesson on Using the Occupy Wall Street Human Microphone, New York Magazine
Man Uses Occupy Wall Street’s Human Microphone to Propose to Girlfriend [Video], Observer
Human Microphone, Urban Dictionary
We Are All Human Microphones Now, The Nation
When the Multitude Shouts With One Voice, The Wall Street Journal

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