All Tech Considered
3:40 pm
Mon February 24, 2014

Cool Or Creepy? A Clip-On Camera Can Capture Every Moment

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 11:45 am

With digital cameras and camera phones everywhere, there are few moments we don't document. But some designers still think we're missing the opportunity to capture some important, simple moments. The solution: the Narrative Clip, a wearable camera that automatically and silently snaps an image every 30 seconds.

"The dream of a photographic memory has come true," reads the box. The Narrative is now on the market and sells for $279.

NPR photographer and Picture Show blogger Claire O'Neill has been fearing a device that would automatically shoot photos all day long, so she joined me in testing it out. (Claire reviewed the user interface and shows you all the warped, blurry images she captured in a post for the Picture Show. Check it out.)

"I already have too many photos to look at," she said.

The Narrative Clip is a lightweight square only a smidge larger than a postage stamp. A tiny lens is in the corner, capable of shooting 5-megapixel images. You clip it to your lapel and it starts shooting two photos a minute. Later, you can simply connect it to your computer to store the photo stream. A Narrative app then organizes what it thinks are the best shots of the day.

"I don't even have to try to remember anything. Great. I'm just gonna turn my brain off now. This is crazy," Claire said.

Or is it? Narrative's founder, a Swedish designer named Martin Kallstrom, says his wearable camera reacts to a real need: We don't often capture simple or serendipitous moments because we don't know they're significant until later.

"What I wanted to achieve was to have a tool to make it possible for me to document stuff that I experience while I experienced them. Without taking me out of that moment," Kallstrom said.

The always-on camera means being fully present, without pulling out a point-and-shoot.

"You have special moments in your life where you want to be fully in that moment. Maybe spend time with your friends, or your kids," Kallstrom said.

I wore the Narrative Clip while spending time with my friends, family and co-workers. The most common reaction to seeing a white square clipped to my shirt was actually: "Is that a radiation detector?" Since these aren't mainstream, I had to explain it was an automatically snapping clip-on camera.

There were many "that's creepy" reactions, too. Even my closest friends said they felt strange about being photographed this way.

Kallstrom says he designed the Clip so it's obvious that you're wearing it. And, he says, just because it's shooting doesn't mean the images go anywhere.

"We never publish stuff automatically on the Web. Through the app, it's always a manual, human decision behind every photo that gets published out of your stream," Kallstrom said.

A lot of the worries people had about being photographed were overblown, for now. Mainly because the Clip just doesn't shoot many really compelling images at this point. (See our slide show, below, of the very best photos the Clip could muster.)

Most shots in my stream were of my computer screen, people in meetings, and my hair, which accidentally covered the lens. This is partly why Claire, the photographer, is less concerned about privacy and more curious about the effect on our memories.

"I think this could potentially reshape the way you remember your life. Because these aren't the scenes you chose to remember. It's what this thing remembered for you," she says. The app does let users manually pick out images from their streams, but the work it takes to do so is pretty time-consuming.

If this all seems like a lot, tech investor and Narrative backer Evan Nisselson says we're just at the beginning of the wearable camera era.

"Within five to 10 years, wearable cameras and camera phones will replace 99 percent of digital SLRs and video cameras," he says.

A near future of clip-on cameras snapping away at every moment? Picture that.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. And now to All Tech Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Today, wearable cameras and their implications. Already, few life events pass us by without someone getting out a camera phone. And it's hard to go anywhere without being spotted by a security camera. Well, now combine that kind of surreptitious all-seeing eye with an every moment is a Kodak moment attitude, and you get wearables like Google Glass or the camera that NPR's Elise Hu has been trying out. It's called Narrative. It clips on and snaps still shots.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMERA SHUTTERS)

ELISE HU, BYLINE: When the Narrative clip came in the mail - check this out - I dropped it on the desk of my photographer friend, NPR's Claire O'Neill. The message on the box promised something big.

CLAIRE O'NEILL, BYLINE: The dream of a photographic memory has come true. Wow.

HU: O'Neill has actually been fearing a device that would automatically shoot photos all day long. Now, she was staring her fear in the lens.

O'NEILL: I already have too many photos to look at.

HU: The Narrative clip is a lightweight square, a bit bigger than a postage stamp, with a tiny lens in the corner. You clip it to your lapel and it starts automatically and silently snapping a photo every 30 seconds. Later, you connect it to your computer to store the photo stream. A Narrative app then organizes what it thinks are the best shots of the day.

O'NEILL: I don't even have to try to remember anything. Great. I'm just going to turn my brain off now.

(LAUGHTER)

O'NEILL: This is crazy.

HU: Or is it? Narrative's founder, a Swedish designer named Martin Kallstrom, says his wearable camera reacts to a real need. We don't often capture simple or serendipitous moments because we don't know they're significant until later.

MARTIN KALLSTROM: What I wanted to achieve was actually to have a tool to make it possible for me to document stuff that I experience while I experienced them, without taking me out of that moment.

HU: The always on camera means being fully present without pulling out a point-and-shoot.

KALLSTROM: You have special moments in your life where you want to be fully in that moment, maybe spend time with your friends or your kids.

COMPUTERIZED VOICE: Going down.

HU: I wore the Narrative clip while spending time with my friends and family and co-workers. The most common reaction to seeing a white square clipped to my shirt was actually, is that a radiation detector? Since these aren't mainstream, I had to explain it was an automatically snapping clip-on camera.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Is it a camera?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: That's creepy. Oh, my god.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: What are you doing?

HU: Even my closest friends said they felt strange about being photographed this way. Kallstrom, the creator, says he designed the clip so it's obvious you're wearing it. And he says just because it's shooting doesn't mean the images go anywhere.

KALLSTROM: We never publish stuff automatically on the Web. It's always - through the app, it's always a manual, human decision behind every photo that gets published out of your stream.

HU: When I uploaded my stream, only a few photos were remotely interesting. Most were shots of my computer screen, people in meetings, and my hair which accidentally covered the lens. This is why Claire O'Neill, the photographer, is less concerned about privacy and more curious about the effect on our memories.

O'NEILL: I think this could potentially sort of like reshape the way that you remember your life. Because these aren't the scenes you chose to remember. They're the scenes that this thing remembered for you.

HU: If it all seems like too much, tech investor and Narrative backer Evan Nisselson says we're just at the beginning of the wearable camera era.

EVAN NISSELSON: Within five to 10 years, wearable cameras and camera phones will replace 99 percent of digital SLRs and video cameras.

HU: A near future of clip-on cameras snapping away at every moment. Picture that.

Elise Hu, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.