One Year in Lifelogging
For one year now I've been wearing my Narrative Clip wearable camera pretty much everywhere I go. So it's about time for a retrospective.
It certainly has become a habit to wear the camera. I stopped wearing it at home early on (nothing exciting happening there) and never really wore it at work (there are more efficient ways to take screenshots of my computer screen). But whenever I leave the house, be it to run errands, to go to work, or to go to events, I do clip it on. In all the time, I've only forgotten to wear it twice.
What it does and doesn't do well
Initially, I was somewhat disappointed by the image quality. The very first lesson I learned was to say goodbye to that grand idea of getting perfect photos of every moment of my life. Often enough, the photos would come out blurry, would cut off important parts (faces, frequently) or just miss that special moment entirely (due to the 30 second interval or the camera pointing in a different direction than the one I was looking).
The camera also makes you realise that a good portion of your day is just routine; especially if you're commuting, like I was until recently. It took lots and lots of photos of empty seats on the local commuter trains, the stations, the same paths to and from work every day. Looking at your life that way can be quite the eye opener.
On the other hand, it did capture a lot of interesting shots that I otherwise wouldn't have had a chance to take a photo of. I've even come to rely on the camera for certain types of events. I know by now that it will produce enough shots of reasonable quality so that it can capture the mood of the event and will help me remember it. It's certainly more innocuous than pulling out a real camera or a smartphone, which can be a bonus in some situations.
The first time I left the house with the camera clipped to my coat, I was half-expecting random people to come over and ask me what that thing was. This never happened, of course, not during the entire year. Yes, I do get the occasional glance - but the moment (or the person) passes. People in public simply do not care enough to walk up to a random stranger and inquire.
The situation is different at events such as conferences, where you're talking to people anyway. As soon as I join a group of people, someone spots the clip and asks: "What's this?" Apparently, a lot of people seem to take it for a sort of fitness tracker. When revealing that it's a camera, the overall reaction is, in my experience, more one of curiosity than of rejection. People start asking questions about the technical details, but also about legal and moral aspects. I get the impression that, at least in the circles I frequent, people have pretty much accepted that they are being photographed all the time anyway, so they can easily accept the little extra that the Narrative Clip adds by taking a photo every 30 seconds.
That isn't to say that all the reactions have been positive. At one event I went to, the camera was spotted and identified as such immediately and I was told in friendly but clear terms that such a device was not welcome here. So I took it off, of course.
When I sense a certain resentment against the device, I do offer to take it off. More often than not, though, people then tell me that I don't have to and that I can continue wearing it. It helps being open about what it is, what exactly it does (and does not) do and to explain why I'm doing it in the first place.
I sometimes get asked if there are situations where I'm not wearing the camera. There are, of course. In addition to the ones mentioned above (at home or at work, mainly because the results are boring), I do sometimes get into a situation where I meet a lot of new people all at once and I feel that me having to explain lifelogging and all that would just make me look like a freak. One example would be an evening course I took to brush up my French. This was also a rather static environment, where I would have taken most of the photos of the people who happened to sit across from me, which didn't seem fair. Which is also why I often take the camera off in similar situations, such as restaurants.
Going public with it
I gave a few presentations about the Narrative Clip - while wearing it, of course - at conferences. The reactions were pretty much the same as in personal conversation: Curiosity mostly, and a few concerns about privacy that I could easily dispel. I also didn't get the impression that people were avoiding me after those presentations :)
I've also been interviewed for an article about lifelogging for an online magazine (in German), during which we switched roles - the interviewer was wearing the Narrative Clip, taking photos of me.
I often get asked how many photos or gigabytes of data the camera produces and I've finally got around to actually looking it up. I didn't keep local copies of the photos initially, so I'm "missing" some of the early stuff (the Narrative servers still have those photos but there's no easy way to see how much space they take up). Also keep in mind that I'm not wearing the clip all the time - on an average day, it will only produce about 3 hours of footage.
So, in 2014 my Narrative Clip apparently took 143901 photos, which take up 97 GB on my hard drive.
It's good to see that Narrative, the company, seems to be doing well and is actually expanding. Which also manifests itself in the improvements that go into their software. The mobile apps have seen quite a few changes since I started using them and we recently finally got a first version of a web app. In fact, I pretty much stopped using the mobile app as soon as I got access to the web app; it's just so much more convenient to scroll through your photos in a browser on a big screen.
What I'm still missing is an API (to create my own apps or mashups using the photos) and an option to unload photos easily while travelling. I found that the Clip can easily store the photos to cover a weekend (with average usage). But once we're talking about more than 3 days, you have to either restrict usage of the device or find a way to unload the photos - which currently means having to carry a laptop with you. I haven't heard about the promised WiFi dock in a while; I wonder if that's still in the pipeline (and if so, what the priorities are).
... and just as I wrote the above, Narrative announced the upcoming Narrative Clip 2, which apparently has WiFi and Bluetooth built in. We'll have to wait and see what exactly will be possible with those new options regarding the transfer of photos while you're away from a computer. I also hope they don't leave owners of the first generation clip behind (see WiFi dock).
So, what are my plans for my second year with the Narrative Clip? To continue wearing it, of course, as often as I can. I can see some new challenges coming up, again testing the public acceptance of such a device. I've just quit my job and plan to start working as a presentation coach. Which means less static work environments, but meeting more new and diverse customers. Will I be wearing the Clip on the first meeting with a potential new client? Wouldn't that scare them off? I'll have to think about that.
What I do already know is that the Clip comes in handy when going through presentations with speakers, e.g for rehearsals. It definitely helps to snap a few random pictures of the speaker in action. In part, it helps in providing feedback but it also helps remembering the session for later referral. So I'm looking forward to integrating the Narrative Clip into my new line of work - at least once trust with the client has been established.
Apart from those new challenges, I plan to use the camera a lot again for private activities, events etc. That is, after all, the main use case for the camera: To help me remember where I was and what I did.
I keep an ongoing gallery of select random snapshot from the Narrative Clip on Flickr. I've also published galleries documenting certain events with the Clip:
- a visit to Bletchley Park, UK
- at the ACCU 2014 conference in Bristol, UK
- behind the scenes of TEDxStuttgart 2014 in Stuttgart, Germany
- at the Creativity World Forum 2014 in Kortrijk, Belgium
These galleries do sometimes include photos of bad quality simply because they are the only ones I have that captured and help me remember that specific moment. But without the Narrative Clip, there wouldn't be a photo at all, not even a bad one. And this is what I bought it for.
(Photos from my Narrative Clip, of course)