I am always watching you. Well, not me exactly, but the tiny camera I have clipped to my shirt pocket is.
The Narrative Clip is always on, and it collects images of whoever or whatever is in front of me. It snaps a shot every 30 seconds as I walk around and go about my day. Whatever I see, it sees.
The Narrative is just one of a crop of ever-observant, wearable cameras currently hitting the market. The increasing popularity of these devices — fueled largely by Google Glass — has led to a backlash. They’re sinister, people say. Too much like Big Brother.
But the Narrative Clip (originally a Kickstarter project called Memoto) is arguably less invasive than Glass. It’s much subtler, for one, since it can be worn anywhere on your body and doesn’t have to sit directly on your face. Also, while it syncs your photos to cloud servers when you plug it in at night, it’s not always connected directly to the internet in the way Glass is. And besides, the whole concept behind Narrative — at least, as it was conceived by its Swedish inventors — isn’t to augment reality in real time, but rather to innocently log a photographic diary.
Indeed, photos taken while hiking along the San Francisco Bay waterfront or sharing a memorable meal with a friend at a restaurant proved worthwhile for later reflection. But some of my friends still registered their discomfort when they realized they were being automatically recorded every 30 seconds by the still camera clipped to my shirt. Telling them it wasn’t shooting video (it only shoots still pictures) didn’t sway them much. When my friend Nancy asked me “Is that thing on?” the expression of horror on her face made even me cringe — and I have a copy of that moment to prove it.
The Narrative is shaped like a large tie-clip, a one-inch-plus plastic square with a lens on the front and a metal clip on the back. It comes in white, black, or orange. An accelerometer inside senses which way is “up” and orients your photos properly no matter how you’ve clipped it to yourself. There are no buttons, but by double-tapping on the front of the device, you can take a single shot at any time – you know, like a regular camera. A double-tap will also let you see the remaining battery power as displayed on four LEDs on the side. The only way to power it off is to set it lens-side down, or stick it in a pocket or drawer.
Ostensibly you are supposed to wear it every day to record events (or non-events). It collects ambiance primarily. But it also just might capture that otherwise fleeting, single magic moment which a regular camera could never get naturally. Leave it on all the time to shoot twice a minute, and the Narrative will record more than 2,800 images per day. The camera’s 8GB of memory holds about 4,000 pictures total, so it’s tough to fill it in a single day. The rechargeable battery lasts about 30 hours, and its 5-megapixel (2592×1944) photos come out with about the same quality as an iPhone 4.
At the end of the day when you connect your Narrative to your computer’s USB port, the thousands of pictures are uploaded to Narrative’s servers and, if you want, backed up to your local hard drive. In order to get your photos off the camera, you have to be using the company’s software (it works on Mac OS X and Windows) and you have to be logged in to your Narrative account. The camera doesn’t mount as a regular USB drive, so if you lose it, strangers can’t see your photos. But fire up the smartphone app, log in, and you’ll see all your pictures condensed into a flipbook-style format. Each photo is time-stamped and geotagged, and you can organize the photos in your own way or just leave them in a chronological stack. The software also has some algorithms built in that automatically pick out the “best” photos for you.
The rationale for the Narrative, much like competing devices from GoPro and Autographer, is to take those pictures that might have otherwise not been taken. The best result from my testing: I now have a flipbook of my friend’s baby pugs frolicking, a capture of a moment that’s not only priceless, but would otherwise not have been purposefully recorded. And the dogs didn’t mind the camera always pointing at them. If the guys in the restaurant’s men’s room knew about it, I could have been in trouble. That’s the thing about a wearable camera — you have to remember when to take it off.