Experiments in Lifelogging, Part 1: First Steps
I like the idea of lifelogging. There are so many moments and events that mean a lot to us when they happen but that we soon forget and we can only wish that we've recorded them when they happened.
I remember seeing photos, years ago, of this guy who had mounted a video camera on himself so that he could record all those precious moments. Of course, it looked ridiculous but secretly I admired him for doing it.
Fast-forward to 2013 and there's Google Glass. And there's this Kickstarter project that promises a camera in a tiny and discreet format that you could wear all the time. Technology has finally reached a point where being able to record those moments automatically and discreetly becomes possible. So I decided to back the project.
After a 10-month delay (during which we were kept informed of all the reasons for the delays), and after a name change, my camera finally arrived.
The Narrative Clip comes in a neat little box with a booklet that explains the camera itself and suggests a few uses. It didn't tell me, though, whether I could use it right away (does it come pre-charged?) or not. So I connected it to my computer and installed the software first. Turns out the battery was at about 25% charge, so I could have used it right away.
Another thing that left me scratching my head: There's a piece of protective film over the front of the device. I'm obviously supposed to remove that, which reveals a slightly rough / matte plastic underneath. There also appears to be protective film around the side of the device but I've been unable to remove that. Or is that not film at all and the camera's sides are glossy?
The USB connector (or mini USB or whatever it is) is covered by a rubber flap that's very fiddly to open. And, as always with USB, there's the question about which side is up. In other words, connecting the clip to a computer is not the most enjoyable part of the Narrative experience.
How do you wear this thing?
Okay, time to take some pictures. First question: How do you wear the clip? If you're wearing a shirt with a breast pocket, then clipping it on there would be obvious. But what if you're wearing a t-shirt? Your only option is to clip it to the neck, which can be uncomfortable and also makes it tilt at odd angles.
Another challenge: Jackets. There's usually no good spot to clip it on straight, so I ended up clipping it to the collar at a 45 degree angle; which, obviously, makes for odd views of the world.
Since the camera simply takes a picture every 30 seconds, whether you wear it or not, you can also place it on the table in front of you and let it photograph you while you work. Again, there's the question of placement. If you put it on the table, it'll make photos straight ahead - probably of your hands, not your face. So you have to locate it somewhere higher or prop it up at an angle.
What's in a picture?
There's no way to control what will be in a photo. You can double-tap the clip to make it take a photo at that point, but usually it's just running on automatic. You also have no way of knowing how much of your surroundings will be visible in a photo. I wore it to the baker and to the post office only to discover that it took a photo of the ceiling lights in the bakery; the man at the post office, even though I was standing right in front of him, only showed up partially in the photos.
You have to abandon the idea of getting lots of perfect photos of your life and your surroundings from this camera. You'll end up with lots and lots of unfocused and blurred snapshots as well as photos that just about missed to capture something interesting.
When you connect the clip to your computer, it copies the photos off of it and then proceeds to upload them to Narrative's servers. They supposedly do some processing on them and arrange them in what they call "moments".
I say "supposedly", since this part has not yet worked for me. Even after leaving it running over night, the software seems to have only uploaded the two very first photos. I can see them in the Narrative app for iOS. The rest of the photos still sits on my computer. The uploader does seem to do something but what it is, I have no idea. It does slow down my internet connection when it's running, but fails to make any progress in uploading my photos.
Mac users can find their photos in a temporary directory under ~/Library/Narrative, so I can at least take a first look at them. Given the huge amount of photos (and bad or unimpressive ones at that), I agree that it doesn't seem to make sense to keep them all on your computer. Let Narrative take care of figuring out the interesting bits and look at them through the mobile apps. Or so I think, assuming I get my upload problems resolved.
The social aspect
Technical issues aside, the interesting part of this whole lifelogging thing is the social aspect of it. How will people react to (potentially) being photographed all the time? The brouhaha about Google Glass can give us some idea already. I'm glad that I opted for the more discreet grey enclosure, but the clip is still very visible, even when clipped on to a black jacket. It's probably a good idea to prepare some kind of elevator pitch that you can give people when they ask you what that thing is.
It's funny, because for a long time, I didn't like being photographed myself and I still feel awkward taking photographs of people with a proper camera (so that they are aware of being photographed). And now I'm walking around with the Narrative Clip, taking photos of everybody and everything without their knowledge. I have to admit that it makes me uncomfortable and I'm not exactly looking forward to the first - inevitable - confrontation.
As others already pointed out: We're at the forefront of a new development here, both in technology and in social interaction. We are being filmed all the time anyway (just look around you!). In a few years, cameras will be even smaller and the Narrative Clip will look as ridiculously huge as the head-mounted video camera from the 1980s looks to us today. By then, we have to have developed rules, norms, and conventions for lifelogging. So we better start now.