I’ve been interested in lifelogging and the quantified self movement for quite a while. I think my fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Reynolds must have started everything when she had us all keep diaries. As an adult, I still like recording my life and the events and people who make it fuller, and I’m drawn to gadgetry that helps me do just that.
Last year I stitched myself a pouch to wear around my neck; inside the pouch fit my iPhone, and I tried various time lapse apps to take pictures. But I quickly found that having a pouch hanging around your neck isn’t a great way to go through the day. For one, you have a pouch hanging around your neck. It’s rather obvious to the world that you’re some kind of geek who has zero fashion sense. And there’s the fact that if you bought a smartphone you’re going to want to use it for many things rather than just leave it hanging around your neck. Time lapse video apps run the battery down fast, and, in my experience, they’re just not a great method for all-day automated periodic photo capture.
So when I somehow stumbled upon the Kickstarter campaign of the Narrative Clip (formerly called Memoto), I knew I wanted one. Here was a great looking camera in a simple form that would take pics at intervals as well as when I double-tapped it. I signed up and made it into the first round of backers to receive their Narrative Clips.
My Narrative arrived yesterday around noon, and after a short charge and installation of software, I was up and running.
The first day was full of moments of feeling extremely aware that my new toy was attached to my shirt and periodically snapping pictures soundlessly. I saw my boyfriend Craig (who has been a great sport about my lifelogging hobby and a few other eccentricities) occasionally glance at the Narrative while talking with me. If it had been anyone else but Craig, I would have wondered if they were self conscious about the camera. I decided it’s just the newness of my wearing the Narrative that has us both so aware of it; that will undoubtedly change over time.
Since I’m not very knowledgeable about the technical aspects of things like wearable cameras, I’ll share most of the rest of my first 24 hours in photos taken in various lighting conditions with hopes that will give you some idea of the experience you can expect with your own Narrative Clip.
First, I made a quick unboxing video. The Narrative made photos of my making the video about the Narrative; a little woo-woo moment there if you think about it too much.
I’m an artist. I scanned a hand drawn border and then spent time coloring it digitally. The entire process was captured.
When I saw the pics later, I realized that the Narrative may help solve a problem for me. For a while now I’ve been wanting to photograph my art at various stages of progress. Maybe I could simply review my pics from the day and pull a few? I filed away the idea for later.
Craig wanted to go to eat, so we headed to a sushi restaurant for lunch. He ate some of my salad while waiting for his order.
Narrative caught a spontaneous moment of hand holding (awwwww):
Next we went to the Fullerton Arboretum where I had hoped to get lots of great pictures of cacti and succulents (Craig has this thing about plants — more about that later). Instead, I got lovely photos of mostly sky. Apparently I’ll need to try out a variety of wearing positions before I’ll find the best one.
On the way home, we stopped at a used bookstore I’ve been wanting to visit. I spent way too much time there, but did find a great book (Craft, Inc. by Meg Mateo Ilasco).
Not much else happened on the first half-day. The next morning, I had an appointment to get my car worked on. We dropped the car off and decided to head to downtown LA for some shopping and sightseeing. But there were a couple stops along the way. First, McDonald’s, and then on to see a lady who had posted a Craigslist ad about rare cacti and succulents for sale. I told Craig I’d give him some as an early Christmas gift.
She also had tortoises roaming the yard:
Then it was on to LA. In the city, I took this picture of the Angel’s Flight Railway using the double-tap feature of the Narrative:
At one point we passed an ornate Buddhist temple that I had to see on the inside. The staff of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple graciously turned on the lights to the chapel so we could view it. Everything seemed to glow golden. I stood at the entrance and walked up the aisle for a closer look. I spent a while there, letting the Narrative take photos and then deliberately using the double-tap feature to take photos. Since I had no way to know whether the Narrative had actually captured things, I took my iPhone out and snapped a couple of photos.
Later, I was stunned at the difference between the photos that the Narrative took and the ones the iPhone took. Here’s the comparison:
Buddhist Temple -- Narrative Clip version
Buddhist Temple -- iPhone 5 version
After the temple, we parked near the jewelry district. We grabbed a lunch of Chinese food in Grand Central Market. In the photos later downloaded, I noticed that Craig started off human-colored and then quickly turned deathly gray (it wasn’t the food, honest). This actually happened a couple of times when I took photos indoors, with some photos even appearing almost entirely grayscale.
After lunch, we did some window shopping in the jewelry district. Craig bought me a pair of earrings (late Hanukkah gift) from the lovely shopkeeper below:
And we headed back home to pick up the car and call it a day.
At home, on reviewing the photos, I noted a few things. Since my Internet connection speed is abysmal*, uploading or downloading anything is extremely slow. It can easily take hours for the photos to upload from my Narrative. That’s not Narrative’s fault, though I hope they can somehow make it so their end works as fast as possible.
Besides the color variation mentioned previously, a problem for me is that the photos in the iPhone app are not all in chronological order. So the visit to the cactus lady and McDonald’s, for example, were scrambled in no particular order. The same occurred with the rest of the trip. Unfortunately, some photos from today were even posted under yesterday’s date. If one isn’t keeping a journal as they go through the day, it might be tough to piece together what happened and when. This is probably my biggest concern of all at this point, but I’m sure it can be fixed in a software update.
I also found that the Narrative did a great job of highlighting some photos that were worth saving (using a feature titled “Trim Moment”), but in checking to see what wasn’t trimmed, I found more photos that seemed of equally good quality. Therefore, that made me want to go through all of the photos (hundreds) to make sure nothing great was being excluded. That would be a slightly tedious task with a fast WiFi connection, but with my current snail’s pace connection, it was quite a piece of work.
Again, the Internet speed issue is not something Narrative has anything to do with. However, the process of combing through hundreds of photos did teach me that I probably am not going to want to wear the Narrative Clip constantly during mundane tasks like driving lest I be left with lots of visor/windshield/sky pics (albeit occasional ones with palm trees) that I need to manually delete in order to more easily find the moments I want to keep. That’s a choice I’m making as a user. If Internet speeds were not an issue, I’d likely go ahead and wear the Narrative 24/7 (minus a few inappropriate occasions, of course). However, I might still be inclined to want to view hundreds of photos to ensure no good ones were missed by the “Trim Moment” algorithm.
Hopefully, the inconsistency with color in the photos is something Narrative can correct with a firmware update. I have seen at least one firmware update pushed through so far, and that gives me hope that they’ll fine tune things as they get feedback.
So my impression after the first day is that I’m really pleased overall. I like the spontaneous moments that the Narrative captures, things I had forgotten (or never even noticed). It’s really interesting to review the photos. I’m excited to explore how I may be able to use the Narrative in recording my art creation process. I love the low profile of my new toy, and the company has been a class act since I took the plunge and invested in them. They even called me after one of my tweets just to make sure I was able to get my Narrative up and running. How many companies do that kind of thing? Not many.
So Narrative, thanks for making the wait worth it. I hope you keep improving this wonderful little camera and lifelogging tool!
*Edited to add: Download speed 1.46 Mbps, upload speed 0.35 Mbps via ATT U-Verse in Orange County, CA