John Kazaklis, a storyteller, photographer, and passionate voice for the forgotten, on the role of technology in telling the story of humans.
John grew up in a Greek Bolivian home where Greek, Spanish, and English were all spoken. Living in one of the most diverse neighborhoods within metropolitan D.C, John’s childhood home had an open door policy and there was always a story to share.
In today’s politically-charged climate, tech has a role front and center. From claims of a hijacked election to the dissemination of fake news and emotionally charged social media conversations on differing views, people are inundated with stories and information like never before. But, according to John, story-tellers have never been more important….
Do you compartmentalize the way you use social media?
I have usually focused on sharing my content from my website to only Instagram and Twitter. Those are the audiences I wanted to target primarily. Facebook seems to have the most different audience to me out of the three and can be the most political and vocal for people. I did however strategically use Facebook groups for my most recent blog on “The Last of the Calabrian Greeks” and that was key in gaining a large audience. I am still prototyping this blog and I feel like Instagram and Twitter are the best places to start.
Do you think there are negative consequences to how we’ve integrated social media into our lives?
I think it’s a great way to state your opinion and get a discussion going. But it is interesting how vocal people are online but are quiet as crickets in real life. We often miss the “human” part of interacting with each other that is ordinarily present in a face to face conversation. I do think there are positive advantages as well. I think it’s a great way to get information, it’s quick. I love Twitter for that reason. And it’s a powerful tool…..revolutions happen on Twitter nowadays.
That human connection is something that we talk a lot about in technology. Stories and their value seem to have an unprecedented front-row seat in today’s information world. As consumers, we are inundated with news and jarring commentary on social issues, with brands taking positions on culturally divisive conversations, and our social media feeds consumed with opinions. We have global platforms where dialogue can and does dominate — but in these digital town squares, do the stories we are telling really matter? Maybe a better question is, are we telling stories or just making noise?
Do you think technology today does a good job at capturing empathy within their products?
Yes and no. When technology focuses on people it can be powerful. It is powerful. It isn’t about the headline — it’s about the people groups behind the headlines. When brands really connect with their users and not take advantage of the user attention, it is powerful. But when products, movements, or brands begin to pull humans out of the focus, it’s hard to capture or convey empathy, regardless of the conversation.
What concerns you about the way we share stories or maybe, which stories we are paying attention to today?
I think, right now, everything is black and white. It’s Fox News or CNN. And when things get weird, stories are their most powerful. When we get through the opinion, you are still a mom, still a grandparent, a child… this is how we humanize important topics in a time when things are polarized. Artists and story-tellers are their most powerful when the political and social climate begins to intensify.
And that’s the goal behind Istoria.life, a blog that shares images and stories that go untold about communities and cultures that are forgotten. It’s a blog about people. Their story, their struggle, their lives — leveraged through technology for one purpose: to bring to the forefront that which was forgotten.
How did Istoria get started?
After years of traveling, after seeing so many different cultures and people, I just felt like there wasn’t an available media content that was fulfilling a lot of the content I wanted to share. I didn’t want to do news or headlines, I wanted to tell the stories about the people living in these places.
Have you always been interested in telling stories?
I come from a long line of storytellers. You go to a family gathering and it’s always about someone has a story.
How do you choose what to write about?
It can be that I see a story and I feel like it should be at the forefront or that I see an event and want to know the story of the people behind the scenes.
Out of the stories you’ve told, which ones are your favorites?
So far, two of my favorite stories are: The Last of the Calabrian Greeks and We are Still Here: The Jews of Thessaloniki. These entries tell the stories of forgotten cultures and languages, people who are still struggling to survive in their culture and identity, and the people in their own city don’t even know they exist.
Specifically, these two stories show the power of assimilation in the age of globalization. People move to a new country with a new culture and don’t want their children to be isolated or ostracized. So they blend in for the sake of a better life. And we forget. I think we see this with minority cultures today in America.
But, when, as a culture, we silence these voices are we losing something potentially beautiful in the process? John thinks so. But he also thinks that technology offers a unique and powerful tool to pen the stories that would otherwise be forgotten, for future generations.
In today’s world, technology has evolved to be a podium on which our voices are heard. Technology is leading the conversation on important topics such as ethics, our boundaries, the way we communicate, what we are communicating about, and where we draw our lines and differentiate in our society. Never before has technology been a stronger mediator in our cultural development. And with that, John is correct, revolutions happen on Twitter nowadays….
Do you consider yourself an early-adopter?
Sometimes. I do think I come around pretty quickly.
How do you prioritize tech use?
I like efficiency and smoothness in the way I do things. I am not going to flip my process upside down until I know it works.
What are the apps on your home screen?
Productivity apps + my Nike Run app. Oh, and Spotify. I need music to get things done.
After downloading a new app, how long till you decide to delete it?
Usually a couple of weeks. If it’s just floating there I will get rid of it.
John’s use of technology is like most others we talk to — he is intentional and likes efficiency. He is picky about what gets the space on his 16GB iPhone. He checks Facebook for the newest updates and to keep up with family. He enjoys the Instagram updates of the stories feature. But it’s the stories — the stories untold, the ones still left to write, the quietest voices that are typically unheard, the conversations and connections that fascinate him so.
Human Factor is a series focused on highlighting how individuals use technology in their everyday life. Sometimes unique, sometimes revolutionary, sometimes ordinary. Always human. Read more of the series, here.