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Switchboard: A place for self-reflection and meeting your anonymous neighbor

How can we build community during a time when we feel so far apart? Lauren Russell’s solution: a community audio diary.

Switchboard is open for anyone to anonymously leave a voicemail or send a text message, which is posted to their Instagram page. 

Russell started Switchboard last November because she was “really curious about connecting to people in a different way.”

She moved to Atlanta two years ago as a graduate student at Emory University, and felt “pretty alone, especially with the pandemic, and it was a lot harder to have a community.”

That, paired with her interest in Craigslist’s Missed Connections and a podcast called “Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People,” Switchboard was born.

She wants the project to serve as a judgment-free zone where callers can talk about whatever is on their minds. 

“It’s an outlet for people to talk about some of the harder things that maybe they don’t feel like they can talk with their friends about,” Russell said. “But they’re still being heard by somebody.”

She also offers prompts that people can respond to, including stories of gratitude, the pandemic, friendships and even ghosts.

Some of the messages pull at her heartstrings. One caller described their first month on testosterone and feeling “more connected to myself and the ground under my feet.”

Another caller left a message about their journey toward self-love.

“Learning to love myself has been difficult,” they said. “It’s difficult in the way of reading a book when you don’t read a lot… You have to do it every day and practice it and get into a rhythm and a routine, or you lose it. And loving yourself is like that. It feels pretty good on the other side.”

“That made me cry a little bit,” Russell said. “I’ve listened to that message a bunch of times.”

Russell thinks the anonymous nature of the project allows callers to be more open and honest than they would with people in their lives. The vulnerability in these messages reinforces her belief that the Atlanta community needs an emotional outlet. 

“I think that’s something that we all really need,” she said. “A lot of these messages show that.”

If you want to get something off your chest or answer Russell’s latest prompt about something you’re proud of, call or text 404-919-9481.

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Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native who recently graduated from Georgia State University, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for two newspapers. Hannah managed the Arts and Living section of The Signal, Georgia State’s independent award-winning newspaper. She has a passion for environmental issues, urban life and telling a good story. Hannah is excited about the opportunity to serve the City of Atlanta and its people. Hannah can be reached at [email protected]

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